Conjunctivitis, commonly referred to as pink eye, is an infection or inflammation of the conjunctiva, the membrane that lines the eyelid and covers the white part of the eyeball. The inflammation affects the blood vessels in the eye and gives the eye a pink or red appearance. Pink eye can be caused by either a bacterial or viral infection, an allergic reaction, a foreign object in the eye or a blocked tear duct. Pink eye can be contagious, so proper diagnosis and prompt treatment are important.
The most common symptoms of pink eye include:
- Redness in one or both eyes
- Itchiness in one or both eyes
- A discharge that may become crusty overnight
- Excessive tearing
- A feeling of grittiness in the eye
Pink eye can be highly contagious, for up to several weeks after signs and symptoms have begun. Prompt treatment can protect others from becoming infected with the bacteria that causes pink eye.
Conjunctivitis is often easily diagnosed by examining the eyes and reviewing the related symptoms. A sample of eye secretions may be sent to a lab for further testing if the conjunctivitis seems severe.
Treatment for pink eye depends on the cause of the conjunctivitis. Bacterial conjunctivitis treatment often includes prescribed antibiotic eye drops or ointment. There is no treatment for viral conjunctivitis and the symptoms eventually ease over time as the virus clears. However, if the cause of the viral conjunctivitis is the herpes simplex virus, antiviral medication may be prescribed. If the cause of the conjunctivitis is allergies, it may be treated with antihistamines to control allergic reactions or decongestants, steroids and anti-inflammatory drops to treat inflammation.