School’s Back. So Will Be Pink Eye.

April 15, 2021

We’re all glad that kids are back in actual school, rather than the Zoom variety. But if there’s one thing that is pretty much guaranteed with school, other than bad school lunch, it’s that kids will be sharing pink eye.

Clinically known as conjunctivitis, pink eye isn’t really serious, but the dramatic pinkening of the sclera of the eye can be somewhat disconcerting for both child and parent.

We treat the bacterial form of conjunctivitis at Millennium Park Eye Center.  But there are also viral and allergic conjunctivitis forms. Here’s more on the condition.

What is viral conjunctivitis?

This form of pink eye is highly contagious, as it can be spread through sneezing and coughing. Viral conjunctivitis can also be a part of viral upper respiratory infections such as the flu or the common cold.

Viral conjunctivitis typically starts in one eye and quickly spreads to the other. It produces a watery discharge.

Since it is caused by a virus, this form on conjunctivitis cannot be treated with antibiotics. Eye drops and ointments are not effective, either. Viral conjunctivitis is self-limiting, however, so it will run its course and resolve in a short time. For a person with viral conjunctivitis, the third through fifth days of the virus are the worst, and then the eyes begin to improve without treatment.

Treatment of viral conjunctivitis is limited to supportive therapies that reduce the symptoms, but don’t stop the virus. Eye drops can whiten the eye; decongestants can reduce surface swelling; and antihistamines can reduce itching.

What is bacterial conjunctivitis?

Bacterial conjunctivitis is a common form of pink eye that is caused by bacteria that infect the eye. The bacteria can be spread through contact with someone who is already infected (such as touching hands), through contact with a contaminated surface or material, or as a result of other infections such as those in the sinus or ear.

Bacterial conjunctivitis typically produces a thick eye discharge or pus, affecting one or both eyes.

Antibiotics are needed to treat bacterial conjunctivitis, typically topical antibiotic eye drops and/or eye ointments. Clearing the bacteria usually takes one to two weeks.

What is chemical or allergic conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis can also be caused by a reaction to allergens or chemicals and other irritants. Allergic conjunctivitis is caused by eye allergies and is triggered by typical allergens such as pollen, animal dander, and dust mites. Chemical conjunctivitis is caused by eye irritation from all kinds of sources: smoke, various chemicals, diesel exhaust, certain perfumes, among others.

These forms of conjunctivitis typically feature itchy watery eyes, and the usual pink color in the sclera. Eye drops containing antihistamines are usually sufficient to treat these types of conjunctivitis. Avoiding the irritants should allow the condition to resolve.

What are the symptoms of pink eye?

While conjunctivitis/pink eye can look scary, it’s really a common eye problem that is easily treated. Anyone can get pink eye, but it’s more common for students, teachers, and daycare workers to get the contagious versions because of their close interaction with others in the classroom.

The primary symptom of pink eye is the white of the eye becoming pink. Other symptoms depend on what type of conjunctivitis you have:

  • Viral conjunctivitis symptoms: Watery, itchy eyes; sensitivity to light. Highly contagious and spread by sneezing and coughing.
  • Bacterial conjunctivitis symptoms: A sticky, yellow or greenish-yellow discharge in the corner of the eye. This can cause the eyelids to stick together when first awakening in the morning. Contagious only through direct contact with infected hands of items that have touched an infected eye (such as a towel).
  • Allergic/chemical conjunctivitis symptoms: Watery, burning, itchy eyes, often accompanied by a runny nose. This form is not contagious.

If your son or daughter is displaying those dramatically pink eyes, give us a call at Millennium Park Eye Center, (312) 996-2020, and let’s see how we can help get the red out!


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