Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, is defined as an infection of the inside of the eyelid. Technically speaking, pink eye is the form of conjunctivitis that is caused by a viral infection, though the distinctive uniform redness of conjunctivitis leads most cases, regardless of cause, to be called pink eye. This condition can be extremely uncomfortable due to watery, irritated eyes. You may experience photosensitivity, and your eyelids may be inflamed and feel hot to the touch.
Causes. Infection, namely bacterial and viral infections, is the most common cause of conjunctivitis. Other common causes are allergies, environmental irritants or other factors that could cause the conjunctiva to become irritated or inflamed. Conditions such as dry eye may put you at an increased risk of pink eye, because it compromises the eye’s natural barriers against infection.
Treatment. Bacterial and viral conjunctivitis are generally treated with prescription eye drops that directly attack the source of infection. Allergic conjunctivitis may require antihistamines or steroid drops for effective treatment. In the meantime, it’s just a matter of managing symptoms to make them a little more bearable. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “You can soothe the discomfort of viral or bacterial conjunctivitis by applying warm compresses (clean cloths soaked in warm water) to your closed eyes.” Avoid bright lights if they cause discomfort, and try not to touch your eyes any more than absolutely necessary.
Preventing spread. Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are extremely contagious, so extra care has to be taken to prevent spreading within the home, school or workplace and to prevent re-infection. Don’t share anything that comes into contact with the face (i.e. towels, cosmetics, reading glasses), and wash your hands with a disinfecting hand soap several times a day during infection and for about a week after. If you wear contact lenses, thoroughly disinfect or dispose of the contacts and case you were using at the time of infection, and do not wear the lenses until the infection is completely clear.