Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is a common eye problem. It can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or allergies. Although different types of pink eye share similar symptoms, not all of them are contagious. Only bacterial and viral conjunctivitis are.
Pink eye can affect one or both eyes, and is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the tissue that covers part of the eye surface and the inner part of the eyelid.
Types of Pink Eye
Bacterial conjunctivitis is one of the most common eye problems. It is more common in children, and it causes red eyes, pain, and sticky pus. The bacteria that cause this type of conjunctivitis can be found on the hands or in makeup, contact lenses, or facial lotions. Sexually transmitted diseases (STD) can also cause bacterial conjunctivitis. Gonorrhea and chlamydia, for instance, can lead to a more severe type of pink eye. Pregnant women who have it can contaminate the baby with conjunctivitis when they give birth.
Why Do Doctors Recommend Antibacterial Drops for Children?
Conjunctivitis is a severe problem when a child contracts it at birth due to an STD. This can happen even if the mother doesn’t have symptoms. Doctors will treat the infants immediately with an antibiotic ointment or eye drops. If left untreated, it can lead to complications such as ulceration and perforation of the cornea, blindness, and chlamydia pneumonia. In severe cases, treatment should be initiated without waiting for culture results.
Viral conjunctivitis is a highly contagious type of conjunctivitis caused by an adenovirus or the herpes simplex virus. People with this type of pink eye will often notice larger blood vessels, photophobia, pain, pseudomembranes, and watery ocular discharge.
Allergies and Irritation
Allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious, and people who have allergies are more vulnerable to this type of pink eye. Allergic conjunctivitis often happens during allergy season and is usually short-term. Chronic allergic conjunctivitis, which is a long-term problem, can occur all year and can happen due to food or animal dander, for example.
People with allergic conjunctivitis will also have red, watery, and sore eyes, but this type of pink eye is distinguished by severe itching and allergen exposure.
Is Pink Eye Contagious?
Bacterial and viral conjunctivitis are highly contagious, and they are spread as long as a person presents symptoms. Allergic conjunctivitis is not infectious.
How to Treat Contagious Pink Eye
Treatment for bacterial and viral conjunctivitis will also prevent the spread of the condition. Mild cases sometimes don’t need treatment, and people can manage the discomfort by using artificial tears.
Antibiotic eye drops or ointments are used to treat bacterial pink eye. The condition may improve after three or four days of treatment, but patients need to take the entire course of antibiotics to prevent recurrence.
Viral conjunctivitis cases cannot be cured with antibiotics, and the virus will have to run its course and it usually disappears in up to 14 days or, in some cases, three weeks. Doctors may prescribe antiviral medications to treat more serious forms of conjunctivitis such as conjunctivitis caused by the herpes simplex virus or varicella zoster virus.
How to Give Drops to Kids
Conjunctivitis is a common problem in children, and it can be challenging to give them eye drops or ointments. The following tips can make the process easier and safe:
- Before the procedure, wash your hands well and minimize the distractions in the room
- If the child is old enough to understand, explain that you will need to use a medication
- Put a drop of it on their hand, so they know it doesn’t hurt
- Explain what the child may feel, like their vision will be blurry for a short time
- A baby or child who is too young to cooperate may be wrapped in a sheet or blanket to restrain their arms
When Am I No Longer Contagious?
Pink eye is still contagious when you have the symptoms. During this phase, the best thing is to avoid crowded places and wash your hands frequently. That way, you can avoid passing it on to other people.
How to Treat Non-Contagious Pink Eye
Antihistamines are the most efficient medication to treat allergic conjunctivitis, and they can reduce symptoms like swelling and itching. The symptoms will also disappear when the cause of the allergy is removed. People with seasonal allergies are recommended to wash their face frequently and wear hats.
Prevent Spreading Pink Eye
There are simple habits that may prevent the spread of conjunctivitis when someone is infected.
- Avoid touching the eyes. It can make the condition more severe
- Change towels daily and wash them separately
- Wash hands with soap and warm water frequently during the day
- Don’t share personal items when you are infected
- Throw away eye cosmetics you used while you were infected
Good personal hygiene is the best way to prevent spreading pink eye. People who caught pink eye or are around someone who has pink eye should wash their hands often for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water. Using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol to clean hands is also effective.Luana Ferreira
Luana Ferreira is a journalist with an international background and over a decade of experience covering the most different areas, including science and health