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Saturday, February 14, 2009

What is "pink eye"?

Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is redness and inflammation of the membranes (conjuctiva) covering the whites of the eyes and the membranes on the inner part of the eyelids. These membranes react to a wide range of bacteria, viruses, allergy-provoking agents, irritants, and toxic agents, as well as to underlying diseases within the body. Viral and bacterial forms of conjunctivitis are common in childhood, but they can occur in people of any age. Overall however, there are many causes of pink eye. These can be classified as either infectious or noninfectious.

What infections cause pink eye, what are infectious pink eye symptoms, and how are they treated?

Viral pink eye

The leading cause of a red, inflamed eye is virus infection. A number of different viruses can be responsible for the infection. Viral pink eye symptoms are usually associated with more of a watery discharge that is not green or yellow in color. Often, viral "cold-like" symptoms, such as sinus congestion and runny nose, are also present. The eyelids may be swollen. Sometimes looking at bright lights is painful. While viral pink eye may not require an antibiotic, those affected should see a doctor, as occasionally this form of pink eye can be associated with infection of the cornea (the clear portion of the front of the eyeball). This infection must be correctly detected and treated. Viral pink eye is highly contagious. Viral pink eye usually resolves in seven to 10 days after symptoms appear.

Bacterial pink eye

The bacteria that most commonly cause infectious pink eye are staphylococci, pneumococci, and streptococci. Bacterial pink eye symptoms include

*eye pain,
*redness, and
*a moderate to large amount of discharge, usually yellow or greenish in color.
The discharge commonly accumulates after sleeping.

Affected children may awaken most unhappy that their "eyes are stuck shut," requiring a warm washcloth applied to the eyes to remove the discharge. Bacterial pink eye is treated by repeated warm washcloths applied to the eyes (try applying these to your child's eye one eye at a time during a favorite video) and requires antibiotic eyedrops or ointment prescribed by the doctor.

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