from Triad's Eye Care Notes
© 1989-2005 by Triad Publishing
At one time or another, nearly everyone has had pink eye,
or conjunctivitis (kon-junk-tih-VI-tiss). In fact, this is
one of the more common reasons people go to an eye doctor.
"Conjunctivitis" means inflammation of the conjunctiva (kon-junk-TI-vuh).
The conjunctiva is the thin membrane that covers the white
part of the eye (sclera) and the undersurface of the eyelids.
"Inflammation" means that this membrane is red, irritated,
is not a disease; it is simply a reaction to something that
is irritating the eye. There are many conditions that can
result in a reddened eye. Usually, it means a viral or bacterial
infection, but conjunctivitis can also be caused by allergy,
irritants such as air pollution, smoke or noxious fumes, or
minor trauma as from contact lenses, a scratch, or even a
loose eyelash. An eye can also look red as the result of something
more serious, such as corneal infection or foreign body, or
even be a sign of certain inner eye diseases.
Is Your Eye Red?
conjunctiva is transparent. It only looks white because the
sclera under it is white. (On the undersides of the lids it
looks pink because the tissues under it are pink.) Buried
within the conjunctiva are many tiny blood vessels that normally
don't show. When there is a conjunctival inflammation or irritation,
the blood flow to these vessels is increased, engorging them
and making them visible against the white background -- thus
the term "pink eye." The reddish color is almost never due
to actual bleeding.
Pink Eye Contagious?
yes; sometimes no. It depends on what is causing it. Infectious
conjunctivitis (caused by bacteria or viruses) can be contagious;
if the cause is an allergy or irritant, it is not. Any time
you aren't sure, it is a good idea to assume it's contagious.
That means not touching your other eye after rubbing the pink
eye, washing your hands after touching the eye or lids, not
sharing towels or washcloths, and disposing of tissues used
to wipe the eye.
Should You Do? Do You Need To See a Doctor?
your eye feels scratchy and uncomfortable, it's all right
to try a mild over-the-counter lubricant for a few days, which
may provide temporary relief. But do not use any product that
contains a steroid, because if you have an infection, steroids
can make it worse.
the eye redness and irritation come on when you or a family
member has or has recently had an upper respiratory infection
(cold, fever, runny nose), the culprit is likely to be the
same "bug." If it's a virus, treatment will not usually be
for a bacterial infection, which often causes a pus-like discharge
or a crusty mattering on the lids, a doctor may need to prescribe
an antibiotic eyedrop or ointment for you.
both eyes are red, an allergy or atmospheric irritant may
be the cause. Be alert to this possibility and you may be
able to identify and avoid the offending substance. A seasonal
allergy is likely if the eyes get red and itchy around the
same time each year. If you are bothered a lot, medication
can be prescribed to relieve the symptoms.
you wear contact lenses and develop conjunctival irritation
and redness that doesn't clear up in several hours after removing
the lenses, they might be the cause of a problem that requires
profuse tearing with lids that tend to want to close suggests
a foreign body, a scratch, or a corneal infection. If these
symptoms don't subside within a few hours, your eye should
be examined. The same holds true if your child comes running
in from outdoors with a red, tearing eye. This almost certainly
means that the eye has been scratched or that there is a small
foreign body in it.
can occur in association with certain systemic diseases. And
sometimes a red eye is not conjunctivitis at all, but a sign
of a corneal problem or an internal eye condition that needs
prompt medical attention. This includes iritis and uveitis
(inflammations deep within the eye), and one uncommon type
causes of conjunctivitis are not serious and tend to clear
up on their own. Some go away after a few days, viral infections
may last several weeks, and an allergic reaction may go on
for months. Do not ignore a persistently red eye in the hope
that it will go away. If the symptoms are irritating and last
for more than a few days, or especially if your eye is painful
or if there is a lot of discharge, the problem may not be
trivial. Any time you are not sure whether a red or pink eye
is serious, it is always better to be safe and have your eye
from Triad's Eye Care Notes
© 1989-2005 by Triad
Patients: for more information about your eyes, see: Taking
Care of Your Eyes: A Collection of the Patient Education Handouts
Used by America's Leading Eye Doctors