Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis): Symptoms, Causes, Risks, Complications, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention

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A women with Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis)

1Overview

The eyes can be irritated by certain factors, particularly infectious agents in the environment. One of the most common infections affecting the eye is conjunctivitis or commonly known as “pink eye”.

Conjunctivitis is an infection or inflammation of the outer membrane of the eyeball, called the conjunctiva. In this eye condition, the blood vessels in the conjunctiva, which is a thin membrane that lines the eye, become swollen and irritated. They become more visible and causes the white part of the eye to appear pink or reddish.

This condition is commonly caused by a bacterial or a viral infection. In some cases, it can also be caused by an allergic reaction. Pink eye can be contagious and can be transmitted from one person to another. Though conjunctivitis can be annoying and irritating, it does not affect the vision and the prognosis is positive.

The infectious forms of conjunctivitis are very contagious and can be easily transmitted among humans. The microorganisms that cause disease are easily transmitted by contact with someone who has a pink eye. He can transmit the virus to you if you hold the objects that have been used by the infected person.

2Symptoms

The symptoms of conjunctivitis may also differ depending on the type.

General symptoms:

  • Inflammation of the conjunctiva (the thin layer on the white part of the eye)
  • Red or pink color of the eyes
  • Feeling as if a piece of small rock or foreign body is in the eyes
  • Itching, irritation and burning sensation with an urge to rub the eyes
  • Increased production of tears
  • Eye discharge (pus)
  • The discharge will form a crust at night making it hard to open the eyes in the morning

Viral conjunctivitis

  • Occurs with colds, respiratory infections, and cough
  • Begins in one eye and spread to the other
  • Watery discharge

Bacterial conjunctivitis

  • Occurs with ear infection at times
  • More commonly tied to an eye discharge or yellow or green, creating a crust at night

Allergic conjunctivitis

  • Affects both eyes
  • May happen with other allergic reactions like rashes, asthma, scratchy throat, sneezing and itchy nose
  • May have severe tearing, eye inflammation, and itching

3Causes

Either pathogens or allergens can cause conjunctivitis or pink eye. The most common causes of pink eye are:

Infectious Conjunctivitis

Pathogens or microorganisms that cause infection can cause pink eye.

Virus

Viral conjunctivitis is most commonly caused by viruses which are linked to common colds. The pink eye can develop when the eyes are exposed to the virus when another person sneezes or coughs. Also, the virus can also spread through one’s mucous membranes.

Bacteria

Bacterial conjunctivitis is most commonly caused by the streptococcal and staphylococcal bacteria. Usually, physical contact with others, poor hygiene, insects or using contaminated eye makeup could cause infection.

Ophthalmia Neonatorum – This is a severe form of bacterial conjunctivitis that happens in newborns. This could lead to permanent blindness or eye damage if it’s not treated early. The condition occurs when the infant is exposed to gonorrhea or chlamydia infection while passing through the birth canal during delivery.

Allergic Conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis affects both the eyes and it is a response to an allergen, which is a substance that triggers a hypersensitivity reaction like pollen. The body when exposed to allergens, will produce immunoglobulin E (IgE), an antibody against allergens. This triggers the mast cells to secrete inflammatory substances, leading to inflammation.

Chemical Conjunctivitis

Foreign substances and some chemicals may also irritate the conjunctiva. When these chemicals splash into the eyes, they may cause conjunctivitis. An example of the chemical that could lead to eye irritation is chlorine, which is found in swimming pools.

4Risk Factors

Some factors may increase the risk of developing conjunctivitis such as:

  • Exposure to a person who is infected with either bacterial or viral conjunctivitis
  • Exposure to an object or allergen that causes allergic conjunctivitis
  • People who use contact lenses, especially those who are extended-use lenses
  • Working in laboratories where one handles chemicals and those swimmers who are always in pools.

5Complications

Conjunctivitis may have various complications, whether the condition is caused by an infection or a hypersensitivity reaction. The complications also depend on the causative agent.

Infectious conjunctivitis

If the conjunctivitis is caused by a sexually transmitted disease (STD), such as gonorrhea or chlamydia, the infection may last for weeks to many months. In most cases, however, if the bacteria leads to conjunctivitis this may resolve with antibiotics and there are seldom complications associated.

On the other hand, if the mother has an STD, she may give birth prematurely and the baby may have neonatal conjunctivitis, which could lead to permanent eye damage.

The other complications include:

Cellulitis – This is termed as the infection of the deep layer of the skin, which may lead to inflammation, swelling, and pain.

Meningitis – Meningitis is the infection of the meninges, which are the protective layers of cells around the spinal cord and the brain.

Otitis media – One complication of conjunctivitis is otitis media, which is a short-term infection affecting the ears.

Septicemia – This is a condition wherein the blood is poisoned as a result of bacterial growth in the bloodstream. The bacteria may attack the different tissues of the body.

6Diagnosis

Conjunctivitis can be diagnosed through a comprehensive eye examination. The doctor will first ask questions about the recent health history and symptoms experienced before performing the assessment.

The diagnostic methods include:

Visual acuity test – This test will measure whether the vision of the person has been affected by the infection or irritation.

Evaluation if the eye – The doctor will check the eyes to ensure that no other tissues are affected.

Tissue culture – The doctor will take tissue cultures of the conjunctival tissue to see which pathogen is responsible for the infection. This will also fasten the treatment to know which drug will be affected.

7Treatment

The recommended treatment for conjunctivitis will depend on the cause, whether it’s infection, chemicals or allergens.

Infectious conjunctivitis

Usually, the doctor will recommend no treatment for viral conjunctivitis, since it is expected to clear up in one to two weeks.

In some cases, the doctor can prescribe an antibiotic to curb the infection.

Antibiotics

Antibiotics are not usually prescribed for this type of conjunctivitis. The condition usually clears by on its own and there is just a low risk of complications. However, if the infection is severe, or it already lasted for more than two weeks, the doctor can prescribe antibiotics.

Chloramphenicol – This is usually prescribed for people with conjunctivitis. This comes in the form of eye drops. Make sure the doctor will prescribe the medicine to you before using one.

Fusidic acid – Fusidic acid can be prescribed if chloramphenicol is not suitable for the patient. This is usually prescribed to children and older adults.

For infective conjunctivitis, there are many self-care tips that can be done at home to relieve the symptoms such as:

Using lubricant eye drops – Use lubricant eye drops to ease the stickiness, irritation, and soreness in the eyes.

Remove contact lens – For people who are wearing contact lenses, take them out until the symptoms of the irritation and infection subside.

Clean the discharge from the eyes – Gently clean away the sticky discharge from the eyes, lashes, and eyelids. Use a cotton soaked in water. Discard the cotton ball every after use.

Regularly wash your hands – Wash your hands frequently with soap and water especially after touching your eyes. This will help prevent the infection from spreading to others.

Allergic conjunctivitis

If the conjunctivitis is allergic, the doctor will recommend the use of eye drops.
These medications help control inflammation and allergic reactions, which include antihistamines, steroids, anti-inflammatory drops, and mast cell stabilizers.

8Prevention

Practice good hygiene to prevent the spread of conjunctivitis or pink eye. You can do these through:

  • Avoid touching the eyes with the hands.
  • Wash the hands frequently.
  • Do not share towels, washcloths, and handkerchiefs
  • Use a clean towel every day
  • Do not share eye cosmetics and make-up
  • Do not share eyeglasses
  • Do not share contact lenses
  • Change the pillowcases often
  • Throw away eye cosmetics once they get infected.
  • Exposure to a person who is infected with either bacterial or viral conjunctivitis
  • Exposure to an object or allergen that causes allergic conjunctivitis

The best way to avoid the spread of conjunctivitis is to stay home. Also, keep the child at home until the eye discharge has stopped. Also, for someone with conjunctivitis, there are ways to prevent transmitting the infection to others.

  • Wash the hands regularly with soap and water. Wash the hands also before and after applying for the medicines like eye drops or ointment.
  • Avoid rubbing or touching the eyes.
  • Wash any dried discharge around the eyes many times a day. Throw the cotton balls after use and wash your hands again.
  • Do not use the same eye drops to the infected and uninfected eyes.
  • Wash the beddings, pillowcases, and towels in hot water and soap.
  • Stop using your contact lenses for the meantime. Clean the eyeglasses regularly.
  • Do not use swimming pools during the infection.