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Pink Eye

By Michael Dawson, M.D.

Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, is a red and bloodshot appearance in the white and lower rim of the eye. When caused by infection, it can spread easily.

Types of Pink Eye

Pink eye can be caused by infection, either viral or bacterial, or by noninfectious sources, such as allergens or irritants. Infectious pink eye is spread when someone touches his or her own eye after direct contact with an infected eye, its secretions or a contaminated surface.

A viral infection often causes short-lived pink eye and may present itself with other cold-like symptoms. Frequently, both eyes are involved. The eyes will appear bloodshot, and there may be a small amount of thin drainage. There may be a burning sensation. If the pink eye disappears within a day, there is no need to visit a doctor.

Bacterial pink eye infections tend to last longer and cause worse irritation. The eye may appear red and puffy and often is very itchy. The drainage is often thick and pus-like. One or both eyes may be involved. If you notice these symptoms, you are encouraged to take your child to the doctor.

An eye may also become inflamed or start to drain during an allergic response or when irritated by a chemical or foreign body. Babies often have blocked tear ducts that result in discharge on their eyelids. Consult with your doctor to help distinguish the cause.

Treating Pink Eye

Bacterial pink eye is treated with antibiotics, usually applied as drops or ointments. Viral pink eye may resolve on its own, although lubricating drops may provide some comfort. Allergic conjunctivitis often improves with antihistamines or other allergy medications, which may also be given topically.

When administering drops, parents should avoid touching the infected eye and wash their hands immediately afterwards. They should ensure that the dropper does not touch the eye, transferring the bacteria and potentially spreading the infection.

Preventing Pink Eye

Because pink eye is often spread when an infected eye is touched, the best way to prevent it is to practice good hand hygiene. Here are some hand washing tips.

  • Wet hands with water
  • Apply soap
  • Rub hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds, remembering both sides of the hand, between fingers and under fingernails
  • If possible, turn off the sink with your elbow or a towel
  • Dry hands

In addition, avoid touching the face and eyes to keep potential bacteria away.