Conjunctivitis, more commonly known as pink eye, is a condition that affects the conjunctiva, the mucus membrane that lines the surface of the eye and the eyelid. When the conjunctiva is healthy, it is clear; however, when it is irritated or when an infection occurs, the white portion of the eye becomes swollen and red, thus causing the eye to look puffy and pink in appearance; hence the name “pink eye.”
Pink Eye Types and Causes
There are different types of pink eye, and each type is associated with a different cause. Here is a look at the different types of pink eye and the factors that cause each type to occur:
– Viral pink eye. This type of conjunctivitis is caused by a virus, such as the common cold. The virus enters the eye and affects the lining of the eye and the eyelid. Viral pink eye is highly contagious, which means that if it develops in one eye, it usually spread to the other, and it can also easily be spread to other people. Avoiding contact with the eye and increased handwashing and disinfecting is recommended to prevent spreading the condition. Viral pink eye usually clears up within one to two weeks. Antihistamines, decongestants, and eye drops can help to smooth the symptoms associated with this type of pink eye.
– Bacterial pink eye. This form of pink eye forms when the lining of the eye is contaminated with bacteria. Bacteria can be spread via exposure to a surface that is contaminated, by contact with a person who is infected with bacterial pink eye, or by an ear or a sinus infection. The bacteria infect the conjunctiva, causing it to inflame and become red. A thick discharge or pus can also occur. Like a viral pink eye, bacterial conjunctivitis is highly contagious; however, unlike the viral form, it can cause serious damage if it is left untreated, which means that medical intervention is necessary. Topical antibiotic eye drops and ointments are usually used to treat this type of infection.
– Allergic pink eye. As this name implies, this type of conjunctivitis is caused by allergies. When the eye is exposed to certain allergens, such as pollen, animal dander, and dust mites, the conjunctiva can become swollen and red. Allergic pink eye is not contagious and there is no cure, though there are ways to ease the symptoms, such as antihistamines that alleviate the side effects of the exposed allergens and medicated eye drops. Avoiding an allergen is highly recommended to avoid the development of this type of pink eye.
Symptoms of Pink Eye
Each type of pink eye is accompanied by similar symptoms, though some of the symptoms differ with each type. The signs and symptoms of each type of pink eye include the following:
– Viral pink eye symptoms. Itchy, watery eyes; redness of the whites of the eye; puffiness surrounding the eye; light sensitivity.
– Bacterial pink eye symptoms. Redness of the whites of the eyes; puffiness around the eyes and light sensitivity also occur with this type of pink eye. However, a greenish-yellow discharge also develops, and it can be thick enough to cause the eyelids to stick together.
– Allergic Pink Eye. Watery eyes; burning sensation; itchiness; puffiness around the eyes; redness of the whites of the eyes. This type of pink eye is also usually accompanied by other classic symptoms of allergies, such as congestion and a runny nose. The eyes may also be sensitive to light.