Protect yourself against pink eye

By: Jane Langille

Pink eye is the common name for conjunctivitis, an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the membrane that covers the whites of your eyes and the insides of your eyelids. When the conjunctiva is inflamed, the blood vessels get bigger and make the eye look reddish in colour.  Pink eye is common in both children and adults.

Pink eye symptomsPink eye

With pink eye, you may have some or all of these symptoms:1

  • redness and swelling
  • more tears
  • white, yellow or greenish discharge of pus
  • itchy, burning sensation
  • gritty feeling
  • crusty eyelashes

If you have blurred vision, severe pain or severe light sensitivity in addition to these usual symptoms of pink eye, see your doctor. You may need a referral to an ophthalmologist, a medical eye specialist, for further investigation.2

What causes pink eye?

Common causes of pink eye include:

  • bacterial infections
  • viral infections, such as the common cold virus
  • allergies, like pet dander, dust mites or seasonal pollen
  • environmental irritants like pool chemicals

Pink eye is highly contagious, spreading quickly from an infected eye to hand to another eye. Preschoolers, children, students and adults working in close proximity, such as daycare workers and teachers, are particularly susceptible.

Treating pink eye

Most cases of pink eye are pretty mild and get better on their own. If the pink eye is caused by a bacterial infection, which is likely the case when pus is present, your doctor or pharmacist may recommend antibiotic eye drops or ointment.

If the pink eye is caused by a viral infection, antibiotics will not work. In that case, the best approach is to let the infection run its course. You can find relief by applying a cold, wet washcloth to the affected area several times a day.

For pink eye caused by allergies, speak to your doctor or pharmacist about using allergy medication eye drops to help prevent or shorten the duration.

9 steps for preventing pink eye

Here are nine things you can do to prevent pink eye:

  1. Never share tissues, washcloths or hand towels.
  2. Cough or sneeze into your elbow if you don’t have a tissue (not your hands!)
  3. Wash your hands
  4. Use a hand sanitizer
  5. Clean bathroom surfaces and countertops with an antiseptic cleaner often.
  6. Ask your doctor how to minimize allergy symptoms before they start.
  7. If you wear contact lenses, never share them with others and follow wearing and cleaning solution instructions carefully.
  8. Use swim goggles to protect against bacteria, viruses and chemicals in pool water.
  9. Don’t share eye or face makeup, applicators or brushes.

Further reading

  1. Pink Eye: Usually Mild and Easy to Treat: CDC
  2. Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis): CNIB

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