Conjunctivitis: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment Recommendations From Your Optometrist

If you believe you have some form of conjunctivitis (commonly referred to as "pink eye"), it's a good idea to schedule an appointment with an optometrist to make a diagnosis and to rule out other possible causes or eye diseases. Pink eye causes the affected eye or eyes to become pink or red and inflamed, and it is typically caused by a virus, bacteria, allergen or irritant. Your optometrist or physician may recommend various methods of treatment depending upon the cause. Recognize the symptoms of conjunctivitis so you can determine how to treat it.

What Causes Pink Eye?

There are several factors that may contribute to pink eye. It is most commonly caused by one of the following factors:

  • Infection: Either a virus or bacteria may cause pink eye. In either case, it is highly contagious. Typically, the individual contracts pink eye by picking up the germ on his or her hand and then rubbing their eye. It may also be contracted by using the same towel as an infected individual. Both viral and bacterial pink eye may be passed on to others through contact. It is fairly common for school children to contract viral or bacterial pink eye, as they are in close contact with others.

  • Allergies: Individuals with seasonal allergies may develop pink eye, especially if their eyes itch and they tend to rub them. This form of pink eye is not contagious. If you are constantly sneezing and have watery, itchy eyes, consider an allergy as the cause of your pink eye.

  • Environmental Factors: Exposure to chemicals or other irritants may cause pink eye, especially if your eyes are sensitive. Like allergic conjunctivitis, this form is not contagious. It is important to remove yourself from the environment that is causing your symptoms.

  • Dry Eyes: If you suffer from chronic dry eye, you may develop pink eye at some point. This occurs from lack of tears, causing eyes to become irritated, inflamed, and red.

 How to Treat Your Pink Eye

If your pink eye is caused by a virus (viral conjunctivitis), you may have contracted it after or during a bout with the common cold. This may occur from having the cold virus on your hand and rubbing your eye. Some refer to this as a cold in the eye.

Symptoms of viral conjunctivitis are watery discharge and a pinkish or red eye. The viral infection generally clears within several days and does not require the use of medicated antibacterial eye drops. You can generally find relief by applying a cool or warm washcloth to your affected eye or eyes (depending upon which feels more comforting to you) and by using over-the-counter eye drops.

Bacterial conjunctivitis causes similar symptoms, although they're usually more severe, and there's often a crusty discharge as well. If your optometrist suspects your pink eye is caused by bacteria, you may be given antibacterial eye drops to kill the infection. Applying a cool or warm washcloth may also bring soothing relief. If your pink eye is caused by an infection, it's important not to rub your eyes, as this may spread the infection to the other eye.

If conjunctivitis is due to a condition known as dry eye, you may experience redness of the eye and extreme itchiness. These symptoms may be improved by using lubricating eye drops. Your optometrist may offer you a prescription if necessary.

Those suffering from allergies may treat pink eye with over-the-counter eye drops. Your doctor may also recommend allergy medication that includes a decongestant and antihistamine. If you've been exposed to harsh chemical fumes or irritants, treat your pink eye in the same manner. If symptoms don't improve after a few days, see your optometrist or physician.