Winter is coming soon... which means the season for coughs, colds, and pink eye is upon us!
What is "pink eye"?
"Pink eye", also known as 'conjunctivitis' in medical terms, is when the eyes look pink/red and may also produce discharge.
The eyes look pink/red because the thin clear membrane that covers the white part of the eye (called the 'conjunctiva') gets inflamed and bloodshot. This membrane can get swollen and make the eye look like it has a big blister on it. The eyelid skin around the eyes often also become very swollen and red.
Symptoms can include a burning sensation, stinging, irritation, tearing, light sensitivity, itching, and crusting of the lashes from the discharge. Usually itching is more specific to eye allergies rather than other causes of eye redness.
Kids often cannot voice these specific symptoms. Instead, a child may starting rubbing his or her eyes, rolling the eyes, blinking frequently, or complaining of something in the eye.
The conjunctiva is a clear membrane that covers the white part of the eye.
What causes it?
Lots of things can make the eyes look pink or red. It can be from infection, allergies (like to dust, pollen, animal dander, medications), chemicals (such as if you accidentally get soap in your eye), excess or improper contact lens use, trauma, or from getting something stuck in your eye.
Technically any of the above causes of conjunctivitis could be considered "pink eye" but I would say that most people use the phrase "pink eye" to refer to a viral infection of the eye.
Some common causes of conjunctivitis include infection (e.g. bacteria, virus), allergies (e.g. pollen, animal dander), improper contact lens use, and trauma/foreign bodies in the eye.
Is it contagious?
There are many causes of conjunctivitis as listed in the section above. If it's from an infection, then yes, it can be contagious.
How do you treat it?
For trauma, contact lens-related redness, or concern for a chemical exposure/ foreign body in the eye:
How can I prevent my child from getting it?
What if my baby has a lot of tearing on top of the redness and discharge? Is this all from pink eye?
It could be, but it could also be from a blocked tear duct or a condition called glaucoma where the eye pressures are really high. If your child's tearing is constant, please have this checked out.
What are the long terms effects on my child's vision if s/he has had conjunctivitis?
Most eye infections will clear without any issues. A neglected infection could lead to permanent scarring and other eye problems if not treated. Chronic allergies in the eyes that are not well-controlled and trauma can also lead to scarring. This could affect vision in the long-term depending on the severity of the scarring.
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