Bacterial conjunctivitis or ‘pink eye’ is one of the biggest schoolyard enemies, one that follows us into adulthood as well. It’s a very common thing; someone in your vicinity or your class or your office gets the dreaded pink eye, and next thing you know, it’s spread all around. Fortunately, pink eye is not life threatening or lethal, it is just very aggravating and can actually be pretty painful if not managed properly. But, knowing how bacterial conjunctivitis occurs is the best way to dodge it the next time someone near you sports pink eye.
While ‘pink eye’ is a generic term for bacterial, viral and allergic conjunctivitis, the cause is most commonly bacterial. The first symptoms to show up are the redness and inflammation that cause the eye to look ‘pink’. The inflammation from the presence and action of bacteria causes congestion in the tiny blood vessels of your conjunctiva, an otherwise transparent covering over the surface and corners of your eye. This congestion makes the blood vessels prominent and angry, red looking.
Unlike the common myth, pink eye does not spread by looking at a pink eye – there is no possible direct transmission through sight. The most common route of transmission is contamination. A person with pink eye rubs their eye, then touches a common object like a towel or a door handle, which someone else touches and gets contaminated by the bacteria as well. Towels, toys, pens, such things are common vectors of the infectious bacteria. Viral conjunctivitis can also be transmitted by sneezing and coughing. Allergic conjunctivitis is a person’s specific response to a local allergen like pollen, dust and animal dander, so it is not contagious. It’s best for a person with infectious conjunctivitis to stay away from mingling with people at least through the very infectious period of their infection, especially children, who’ll unknowingly give it to their friends, their teachers, or their entire class.
The difference can be told by the fact that infectious conjunctivitis usually affects one eye first, and may involve the other eye after a couple of days. Allergic conjunctivitis tends to involve both eyes from the beginning, and might be accompanied by sneezing. Both forms show itchy, red, painful eyelids, which may be swollen as well, with watery eyes. Neither of them will damage your eyesight though. They are merely inconvenient.
Another visible difference is crusting of eyelids and eyelashes with a sticky substance, especially noticeable right after you get up in the morning. Along with watering of eyes, there might be a pus-like sticky discharge from the eye. This discharge is more likely to be green or yellowish: green in bacterial conjunctivitis and clear in viral conjunctivitis. The morning crusting is because of this discharge that has accumulated overnight and dried, sticking the lashes together. There might be a slight fever as well, headaches, and irritation because of bright light, which is not a good sign. Photosensitivity means that the infection is spreading and it’s time to up the antibiotics.
The basic treatment plan for bacterial conjunctivitis is antibiotics. Eyedrops of antibiotics like oofloxacin, ciprofloxacin, moxifloxacin, gatifloxacin are available with tiny nozzles, so that you can simply tilt your head back and squeeze a 3-4 drops into your eye, 2-3 times a day, as the doctor has advised. Your doctor might also give you an antibiotic eye ointment that should be applied on your eyelid at bedtime, to prevent the stickiness and to continue the drugs’ action, while you sleep. If the infection is very severe, you might need to do a course of systemic antibiotics, but this is generally not needed. Pink eye is simple to manage – just don’t give it to someone else!
If you have further concerns about bacterial conjunctivitis or pink eye, our team of physicians at www.askthedoctor.com is here to help find you treatment. We wish you well and hope to be of any assistance, any time!