Pink eye, otherwise known as conjunctivitis, is one of the most frequently seen eye diseases, particularly with kids. It can be caused by a virus, bacteria or irritation from ingredients in cosmetics, chlorine in pools, and pollen, or other substances that come into contact with the eyes. Many kinds of pink eye are very contagious and quickly cause a conjunctivitis outbreak in school and in the office.

This type of infection is seen when the conjunctiva, or thin transparent layer of tissue that lines the white part of the eye, becomes inflamed. It’s easy to recognize the infection if you notice eye itching, discharge, redness or swollen eyelids and eyes that are crusty early in the day. Conjunctivitis infections can be divided into three main kinds: bacterial, viral and allergic conjunctivitis.

Viral conjunctivitis is often caused by the same kind of viruses that makes us have those familiar red, watery eyes, sore throat and runny nose of the common cold. Symptoms of the viral form of conjunctivitis are likely to last from one to two weeks and like other viruses cannot be treated with medication. To ease uncomfortable symptoms, compresses applied to the eyes will give you some relief. The viral form of pink eye is transmittable until it is completely cleared up, so meanwhile, practice excellent hygiene, remove eye discharge and try to avoid sharing pillowcases or towels. If your child has viral conjunctivitis, he or she will have to stay home from school for three days to a week until it clears up.

Bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by a common bacterial infection that gets into the eye usually from an external object touching the eye that carries the bacteria, such as a dirty finger. This type of infection is most often treated with antibiotic eye drops or cream. One should see the symptoms disappearing after just a few days of antibiotic drops, but make sure to adhere to the complete antibiotic prescription to stop conjunctivitis from returning.

Allergic pink eye is not transmittable. It usually occurs among those who already have seasonal allergies or allergies to substances such as pets or dust. The allergic symptoms in the eyes may be just part of a larger allergic reaction. The first step in alleviating allergic pink eye is to remove or avoid the allergen, when possible. Use cool compresses and artificial tears to alleviate discomfort in mild cases. When the infection is more severe, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and antihistamines might be prescribed. In cases of chronic allergic infections, steroid eye drops may be prescribed.

With any form conjunctivitis, making certain to maintain sanitary habits is the first rule of thumb. Try not to touch your eyes, and if you do, make sure to wash your hands well.

Conjunctivitis should always be diagnosed by a qualified optometrist in order to determine the type and optimal course of treatment. Don’t ever treat yourself! Don’t forget the sooner you begin treatment, the lower chance you have of spreading conjunctivitis to others or prolonging your discomfort.