The symptoms of conjunctivitis, better known as pink eye, can be frustrating: itching, burning, stinging, irritation, grittiness, crusting, and light sensitivity. And of course, your eye will likely have a distinctive pink or reddish hue. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), pink eye is one of the most common and treatable eye conditions in the world, but it is sometimes difficult to determine the exact cause of an individual case because a few different causes present the same symptoms. So what causes pink eye?
What Causes Pink Eye?
Conjunctivitis is an inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva, a transparent membrane that lines the eyelid and covers the white portion of the eyeball. When inflamed, the small blood vessels in this membrane become more visible and make the whites of the eye appear pink or reddish.
Pink eye does not have a simple, singular cause. A variety of issues can cause the inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva, including all of the following:
- Viruses: A virus is the most common cause of pink eye. Symptoms include a burning sensation in the eye and watery discharge. It may occur in one or both eyes, and it is very contagious. In addition, it may occur alongside a cold or another respiratory infection.
- Bacteria: Bacteria – more specifically Staphylococcus aureus, Haemophilus influenzae, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa – are another common source of pink eye. Sometimes bacteria are produced by poorly cleaned contact lenses. Like viral conjunctivitis, bacterial conjunctivitis may occur in one or both eyes, is very contagious, and may occur alongside a cold or another respiratory infection.
- Allergies: Allergic conjunctivitis occurs when the body produces immunoglobulin E (IgE) in response to an allergen (like pollen, dust mites, animal dander, and mold spores). This provokes special cells in the mucous lining of the eyes, causing them to release inflammatory substances like histamines, which can produce pink eye (amongst other allergy symptoms, like sniffling and sneezing). If your pink is caused by allergies, you may experience itching, tearing, and redness in both eyes.
- Irritation: Sometimes pink eye is caused by a chemical splash, a foreign object entering the eye, or exposure to a particular substance (smoke, diesel exhaust, certain perfumes, certain herbs). Cleaning the eye afterward and flushing it with water may cause inflammation. If your symptoms continue after cleaning your eye, contact your doctor or an eye specialist ASAP.
- Sexually Transmitted Diseases: Some STDs, including gonorrhea and chlamydia, may produce pink eye. A pregnant woman may pass the condition onto her newborn baby.
Pink Eye Precautions
One of the most important things to understand about pink eye is that both of the most common forms – viral and bacterial conjunctivitis – are highly contagious. If someone comes into contact (whether direct or indirect) with the liquid draining from the eye of someone with conjunctivitis, they will likely contract pink eye as well. If you or someone in your family currently has pink eye, use these precautions:
- Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
- Avoid touching your eyes with your hands (and only do so after washing your hands).
- Do not share towels.
- Do not share cosmetics, such as eyeliner or mascara.
- If you have pink eye, avoid using eye makeup until your eyes heal.
- Clean your contact lenses properly.
- Always use a clean tissue or towel when wiping your face or eyes.
- If you have pink eye, stay home from work or school if possible.
If you have any questions about how to relieve your symptoms and treat pink eye, contact your eye doctor. Fortunately, many forms of pink eye don’t require treatment at all! They will go away on their own within one or two weeks.
If you live in southwest Missouri, contact Heffington’s for help. Since 1975, the Heffington family has been assisting the Springfield community with top-quality eye care and affordable eyeglasses and contacts. One of the unique features of our family-owned business is that we manufacture lenses at our own laboratory, giving us total control over the service and pricing, and we’re happy to pass our savings on to you. To learn more about our products and services, please get in touch with us online, send an email to [email protected], or give us a call at 417-869-3937 (Optiland location) or 417-882-3937 (House of Vision location). We look forward to hearing from you!