Is your eye pink and itchy? Did you wake up with swollen, crusty eyelids? There’s a good chance pink eye might just be the culprit.
Conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink eye, is an infection of the thin layer of the eye called the conjunctiva. This transparent membrane lines the eyelid and covers the whites of your eyes. When small blood vessels in the conjunctiva become inflamed or infected, they’re more visible and cause your eye to appear reddish or pink.
What Causes Pink Eye?
Viruses cause most cases of pink eye, but bacteria can also produce the infection, from sources like improperly cleaned contact lenses. The Mayo Clinic states that both viral and bacterial conjunctivitis can occur if you have a cold or respiratory infection, and both types are also very contagious and can spread through direct or indirect contact with drainage from an infected eye. Other causes can include allergies, a chemical splash or foreign object in the eye, or, in newborns, a blocked tear duct.
Unlike some other infections, pink eye is easy to detect. This is because the most common symptom is redness in one or both eyes. According to the CDC, other symptoms may include:
- Swelling of the conjunctiva and/or eyelids
- Increased tear production
- The sensation of a foreign body in the eye(s)
- An urge to rub the eye(s)
- Itching, irritation, and/or burning
- Discharge (pus or mucus)
- Crusting of eyelids or lashes, especially in the morning
- Contact lenses that feel uncomfortable and/or do not stay in place on the eye
Treating the Infection
Usually, pink eye goes away on its own within a week or two, depending on the type and severity of your infection. During that time, it’s best to stay away from wearing contacts, makeup, or other things that make contact with your eyes. If your infection is bacterial, you can use over-the-counter painkillers and lubricating eye drops to ease the irritation. Applying a cool compress to your eyes can also help ease the burning.
Tips for Prevention
The American Academy of Ophthalmology suggests a few ways to avoid spreading and contracting pink eye:
- Change pillowcases and sheets regularly
- Use a fresh towel every day
- Wash your hands often, especially after you touch your eyes
- Don’t wear contact lenses while your eye is still infected
- Don’t share anything that touches your eyes
- Throw away any infected objects that touched your eyes
If the pain is extreme and/or symptoms get worse, contact your doctor about the best treatment options for you.
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