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PREVENT

The ultimate guide to pink eye

Your alarm goes off and you turn to check the time, but wait, you can't see the clock because your eye is crusted shut. It's the dreaded pink eye.

Many parents know pink eye—or conjunctivitis—is inevitable, especially if your kid attends school or day care, and it can be difficult to prevent its spread to others. Yet, there is a lot more to know about pink eye. For instance, not all forms of pink eye are contagious or require medication to clear up. There are three different types of conjunctivitis:  

  • Bacterial: Typically, only one eye will turn pinkish-red and is accompanied by thick, yellow or greenish-yellow discharge. This discharge can crust around the eye and even make it difficult to open your eye in the morning. Bacterial pink eye is contagious and is cleared up with prescription antibiotic eye drops.
  • Viral: One or both eyes may turn pinkish-red and be watery, itchy or sensitive to light, but without the discharge. Often times, viral pink eye follows a cold, flu or sore throat. Viral pink eye is contagious and just like the common cold, there is no cure. Let the virus run its course over a few days and apply a warm compress to your closed eyelids to relieve symptoms
  • Allergic: Pink eye can be caused by seasonal allergies and comes with typical seasonal allergy symptoms, such as stuffiness and a runny or itchy nose. Allergic pink eye typically affects both eyes and is not contagious. Avoid the things that cause the pink eye allergy and relieve with antihistamines or seasonal allergy medications.

Stopping the spread of infection

The main reason bacterial and viral pink eye spreads is from touching your eye with your hands or other contaminated objects. 

  • Practice good hand hygiene by washing your hands frequently and do not rub your eyes.
  • Clean away any discharge with a warm washcloth. Do not reuse the washcloth. If pink eye affects only one eye, don't touch both eyes with the same cloth.
  • Stay home for at least 24 hours after beginning antibiotic drops for bacterial pink eye.
  • Separate and launder towels, washcloths or bedding that come in contact with your eye area from the rest of your laundry.
  • Dispose of contact lenses, cases and cleaning solution worn since contracting pink eye.
  • Get rid of eye makeup used before or during the infection.  

Clearing up conjunctivitis myths

Let's bust the myths that persist now that you have the facts about pink eye. 

  • Only children can get pink eye. It sounds too good to be true, because it is. Pink eye can affect anyone. The high rate for infection among children is usually a result from not taking precautions against spreading.
  • Infection can spread from a glance. This may sound a bit far-fetched but it is a common misconception. So far, medical professional have not discovered a single disease spread through simple eye contact.
  • Pink eye can cause blindness. While embarrassing and uncomfortable, pink eye is a minor infection. In fact, many cases of pink eye go away without treatment in seven to 10 days. You should consult with an optometrist or your provider if you experience fever, rash, persistent headache, nausea or changes in eye discharge. These symptoms may indicate a more serious condition.
  • Farting on a pillow can cause pink eye. This is a popular myth amongst school-age pranksters. The myth asserts that a person who uses a pillowcase that a practical joker farted on will later contract pink eye. Flatulence is primarily methane gas and does not contain bacteria. Additionally, bacteria die quickly outside the body.

Talk with your optometrist, health care provider or do an online visit if you're experiencing the gunky discharge symptoms of bacterial pink eye. If you experience fever, rash, persistent headache, nausea or changes in eye discharge you should see an optometrist, clinic provider or an urgent care provider.

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