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What Causes Pink Eye and How to Treat It

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Conjunctivitis, otherwise known as “pink eye”, is an uncomfortable condition that is unfortunately common among every age. But what exactly is pink eye, how is it caused and how can it be treated and avoided?

What Is Pink Eye?

Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, refers to a swelling or inflammation of the thin transparent tissue which lines the inner part of the eyelid known as the conjunctiva. This can be a highly infectious disease, and whilst it is usually minor, it has the ability to develop into a serious infection if it goes untreated. There are various symptoms associated with pink eye, including an itching or burning sensation in the eye, swelling, a gritty feeling, unusual amounts of tearing, discharge from the eye, and of course pink discolouration of the whites of the eyes – which is where it gets its name.

What Are the Causes of Pink Eye?

There are many potential causes of pink eye, which can be divided into the categories of allergic, bacterial or viral, and chemical. The condition can commonly be the result of a bacterial or viral infection which is either passed on by contact with others, being around someone with a cold, or sharing contaminated products with others. Poor hygiene, such as not washing your hands, can also increase the risk of infection. Irritants in the air may also lead to pink eye, for example smoke, pollution or even chlorine in a swimming pool, all of which come under the chemical category. It can also be brought on by various other things such as the ingredients in skin products or cosmetics. Allergic conjunctivitis is often caused by seasonal allergies to things such as pollen, or otherwise by the presence of a foreign object in the eye, such as a contact lens.

How Is Pink Eye Treated?

The way that pink eye is treated will depend on its cause. Antibacterial eye drops or antibiotics are the most common solution for bacterial conjunctivitis, clearing it within a few days, whereas a viral infection will not react to such medications and simply has to run its course. Cooling eye compresses may be used to ease discomfort, but generally a viral infection can take up to three weeks to clear. For chemical infections, it is advisable to flush the eyes with saline solution. Topical steroids may also be advisable as well in more serious cases. In cases caused by an allergic reaction, the irritant should be avoided or removed, after which eye drops and cooling compresses may be sufficient to treat the ailment, whereas in more serious cases antihistamines or anti-inflammatories may be necessary.

How to Avoid Pink Eye

The best way to avoid contracting or spreading pink eye is to ensure that your hands are always clean. Make sure you wash them after making contact with others or after touching things like handrails or being in a crowded place. Do not share items with others such as cosmetics, pillows, towels, contact lens equipment or eye medicine.

Pink eye is an uncomfortable and often embarrassing complaint, but by diagnosing it quickly and seeking the right treatment, you can ensure that you are rid of it quickly and avoid passing it on to others.

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