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Among the most common eye conditions is conjunctivitis, also known as “pinkeye.” It is especially common among young children, but teens and adults can get it, as well.
What is it?
Pinkeye – so named because of the accompanying redness of the covering of the white part of the eye (the conjunctiva) – can be caused by an infection, irritants, or allergens. Infectious causes of conjunctivitis include bacteria and viruses, most often the same ones responsible for other infections like ear infections, sinus infections, and sore throats. It may also be caused by the same bacteria that cause sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia and gonorrhea.
In addition to the pink coloring of the eye, eye pain and discomfort are common symptoms of conjunctivitis. Often, there is a discharge or excessive tearing from the eye and the eyelid may be swollen and sensitive. Pinkeye can affect one or both eyes.
How do I know if I have it?
Bacterial conjunctivitis can spread to other people as soon as symptoms appear and for as long as there is discharge from the eye. The infection-causing bacteria passes from one person to another when someone touches something an infected person has touched, such as a tissue or towels, or through coughing or sneezing. A person with an infection in only one eye can spread it to the other by itching or touching the infected eye and then touching the healthy eye without washing his or her hands.
If you think you have pinkeye, see your doctor. If bacteria is the cause of the infection, antibiotic eyedrops or ointment can be prescribed to treat pinkeye.
What can I do about it?
Bacterial conjunctivitis usually clears up within about a week. Luckily, it isn’t a serious condition. It is uncomfortable, but it usually won’t cause any lasting problems in children or adults.
If you are pregnant and you think you have pinkeye, see a healthcare provider right away. If bacteria is the cause, he or she will prescribe antibiotics that will not affect your growing baby. Additionally, there are steps you can take at home to relieve the symptoms of bacterial conjunctivitis:
- Wash your eyelids frequently with a clean, wet cloth
- Apply compresses to your eyelids several times each day
- Wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your eyes, and don’t share anything that has touched your face or eyes with anyone else
- Don’t wear contact lenses during pinkeye and throw out lenses you wore when you noticed the infection
Infection control is important during pregnancy, and such measures will not only prevent bacterial conjunctivitis but also colds, the flu, and other contagious diseases.