Conjunctivitis, commonly known as pinkeye, is the inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva tissue of the eyes. Pinkeye doesn’t have a single cause; rather, it can be the result of a viral infection, bacteria, allergies, or irritants in the eye. While it’s generally harmless and easy to treat, viral and bacterial conjunctivitis can are also highly contagious, especially among children.
With the new school year just around the corner, pinkeye cases will be on the rise. The close quarters of schools and children’s still-developing hygiene habits make classrooms a hotbed for this and other highly infectious conditions.
Knowing the symptoms, treatments, and prevention methods for the various forms of pinkeye can help you protect your children from its discomforts this school year.
As its name suggests, this form of conjunctivitis is the result of a viral infection in one or both eyes. Its symptoms include redness and itchiness in the affected eye(s), excessive watering, and light discharge and crusting. The virus responsible might also cause cold-like symptoms and swollen lymph nodes in front of the ear or under the jawbone.
As with most viruses, this form of conjunctivitis is highly contagious, so take extra care to prevent its spread. Because viruses do not respond to antibiotics and other medications, there is little that can be done to treat viral pinkeye aside from allowing it to run its course. However, applying a warm compress and artificial tears a few times a day can help alleviate discomfort during this time.
Conjunctivitis caused by a bacterial infection is more likely to affect both eyes than its viral counterpart. This form of pinkeye is generally accompanied by heavy discharge and crusting of the eyes, as well as the characteristic redness and itchiness common to all types of pinkeye.
A doctor can prescribe antibiotic ointments and eye drops to treat bacterial pinkeye, which generally reduces or eliminates contagiousness within 24 hours. For the sake of preventing spreading, it’s best to assume the infection is contagious until symptoms disappear.
Non-Contagious Forms of Pinkeye
In addition to bacterial and viral causes, conjunctival irritation can also be caused by allergens, environmental pollutants, and foreign bodies in the eye. Antihistamines can be an effective treatment for allergy-induced pinkeye.
To prevent the spread of viral and bacterial pinkeye, encourage your children to wash their hands frequently, cover coughs and sneezes in elbows, and avoid touching their eyes and faces. Reminding children not to share personal items like towels and washcloths can also help keep these infections contained.
When to See a Doctor
While pinkeye is relatively harmless and easy to treat, symptoms that are accompanied by pain, changes in vision, or a high volume of discharge can be indicative of a more severe condition. In these cases, it’s best to consult a doctor rather than attempting treatment at home.