Conjunctivitis is one of the most common medical conditions with approximately 6 million new cases estimated in the US annually. Around 1% of all visits to primary or healthcare facilities is attributed to conjunctivitis related symptoms and treatment requirements. Conjunctivitis commonly known as pinkeye, is the condition where the membranes inside the eyes are inflamed and reddish. It is attributed to various conditions including allergies, bacterial infections, viral infections and irritation as a result of exposure to chemicals. In the case of little babies, pinkeye is attributed to the incompletely opened tear duct, which results in the inflammation of the membranes.
The transparent membrane in the eye, known in medical terms as conjunctiva lines the eyelid and offers protection to the white of the eye ball. It is this membrane that gets inflamed and turns reddish as a result of conjunctivitis. The tiny blood vessels in the membrane turn red and inflamed, making the membrane appear either pink or reddish in appearance. This is precisely why the condition is known as pink eye.
While pink eye or conjunctivitis could be irritating in nature with symptoms that affect routine, the condition typically does not have any long term impact on vision. The condition will not have any permanent effects on the vision, unless it is attributed to some other medical condition. Here is an indepth, detailed look at conjunctivitis, the causes, the symptoms, the treatment, the various indications, and preventive care that is necessary to halt the spread of the infection.
Is pink eye contagious?
One of the most common questions among patients is the contagious nature of the condition. There are various types of conjunctivitis, including contagious forms of conjunctivitis, and this is regarded to be highly contagious in nature. The spread of the infection from one individual to the other occurs through contact with infected individuals. The various modes of transmission of the infection from one individual to another includes the sharing of objects used by an individual with the infection. Other possible modes of transmission of the infection include coughing and sneezing. It is essential that students in academic courses and schools stay away from school for a short period when infected with conjunctivitis, to prevent the spread of the condition. In classrooms and educational institutions, the possibility of close contact and proximity is high and this is precisely why it is necessary to ensure that the infection is not spread from student to student.
However it is important to understand that there are multiple forms of conjunctivitis, including non-contagious types of conjunctivitis. For instance, pinkeye or conjunctivitis can be attributed to allergic reactions. Similarly, individuals who have been exposed to certain chemicals may also have conjunctivitis. In such conditions, pinkeye is not contagious in nature and will not pose a condition. In classrooms and educational institutions, the possibility of close contact and proximity is high and this is precisely why it is necessary to ensure that the infection is not spread from student to student.
However it is important to understand that there are multiple forms of conjunctivitis, including non-contagious types of conjunctivitis. For instance, pinkeye or conjunctivitis can be attributed to allergic reactions. Similarly, individuals who have been exposed to certain chemicals may also have conjunctivitis. In such conditions, pinkeye is not contagious in nature and will not pose a threat to others. However, as individuals may be unaware of the reason behind the infection, it may then be necessary to take precautions and prevent the spread of the infection.
Indications that an infected patient is contagious
There are various indications by which it is possible to determine if the infected patient is still contagious. This will help to understand and take adequate precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the infection. Here are 7 indications that it can help determine if the patient is contagious.
#1 Inflammation around the eyes – if the patient is presented with inflammation around the eyes, it is an indication that conjunctivitis is possibly infectious in nature.
#2 Discharge – if the patient experiences some form of discharge from the eye, it is an indication that the infection is still contagious in nature.
#3 Experiencing burning sensation – a patient who experiences burning sensation in the eye, should take adequate precautions, as it is an indication that the infection is still contagious in nature.
#4 Irritation – a patient who experiences irritation in the eyes is possibly in contagious stage of the infection, and needs to take adequate precautions.
#5 Reddish/pinkish appearance – patients whose whites of the eyes are still reddish or pinkish in appearance need to take adequate precautions as there is likelihood of the infection remaining contagious.
#6 Crusty formation in the eyelashes and eyelids – patients who experience crusty formation in the eyelashes and eyelids need to take adequate precautions as crusty formation is an indication of contagious stage of the infection.
#7 Tears – patients who experience formation of tears could possibly be in the contagious stage of the infection. It is therefore necessary to ensure that contact is minimised to prevent the spread of infection.
Common symptoms associated with conjunctivitis
Symptoms commonly associated with conjunctivitis include the following.
#1 Reddishness in either or both eyes. This is distinguishable as the small blood vessels in the white of the eyes turn red creating the reddish or pinkish appearance which gives the condition its name.
#2 Itchy feeling in either or both eyes. An individual with the condition is likely to experience an itchy feeling in either or both eyes. This would be abnormal and unlike normal itchy sensation experienced in the eye routinely. This could sometimes be persistent in nature.
#3 Discharge from either or both eyes. Individuals with the condition are likely to experience a discharge from one or both eyes. This could be abnormal and unlike the usual discharge experienced normally.
#4 Crust formation as a result of discharge. The discharge is likely to cause the formation of crust on the eyes, which may prevent the eyes from opening smoothly in the morning. The discharge is usually thick in nature and makes it tough for the eyelids to open.
#5 Tears. A patient with conjunctivitis is likely to experience tearing which is unlike typical tearing. Abnormal tearing is a strong indication of conjunctivitis, as the tear ducks start discharging, as a result of the condition.
How is conjunctivitis diagnosed?
Conjunctivitis is diagnosed by a specialist through observation of the usual symptoms and indications. The history of the patient and the onset of the condition are used as the points to determine the condition and read it along with the symptoms presented. It is possible that the treating specialist may carry out an examination of the patient with a slit lamp. This will be used in the event that certain symptoms are not presented. The use of a slit lamp is typically used for the purpose of confirmation of the condition. In a limited number of cases it is also possible that sample of the discharge of the crust that is formed on the eye maybe sent for laboratory diagnosis. This is generally for the purpose of determining the best medication for treating the condition/underlying condition.
What are the common causes for the condition?
The common causes for the condition include the following :
#1 Bacterial infection
#3 Exposure to chemicals
#4 Blocked tear duct in the eye
#5 Viral infection
#7 Irritation caused by foreign object
Is it necessary to see a doctor for conjunctivitis?
It is advised to consult a doctor when any of the symptoms are presented. This is important as the condition may result in pain in the eye, and discomfort. In the case of individuals who experience conjunctivitis as a result of a foreign body in the eye, the pain and discomfort could be heavier. Additionally, as a result of the condition, there is a possibility of experiencing blurred vision. Individuals are also likely to experience some kind of sensitivity when exposed to light. It is necessary to seek medical intervention when any of these conditions are presented.
Individuals with the condition who use contact lenses need to follow a different protocol. It is necessary to stop wearing of the contact lenses the moment any of the above symptoms are experienced. The symptoms are likely to aggravate in individuals who wear contact lens. The timeline for seeking treatment is typically one day from the time of experiencing the symptoms. In other words, if the symptoms do not resolve or reduce within 1 day, it is necessary to seek medical attention. This will help to rule out the cause of the condition from other serious infections. For instance, infections are also attributed to use of contact lens. By seeking medical attention, it is possible to eliminate the cause of the condition from other serious eye infections and commence treatment on time.
Different types of conjunctivitis
Here is a look at some of the different types of conjunctivitis and the symptoms associated with it.
Viral conjunctivitis and bacterial conjunctivitis
Viral conjunctivitis is commonly attributed to adenovirus. It is also known to be caused by the herpes simplex virus, and other viruses, including varicella zoster virus. The symptoms that are presented along with viral conjunctivitis and bacterial conjunctivitis include cold and respiratory infections. For instance, a sore throat could accompany the viral and bacterial conjunctivitis.
One of the reasons for bacterial conjunctivitis is lack of adequate hygiene while using contact lenses. Improper cleaning or inadequate cleaning of contact lenses are known to be a cause for bacterial conjunctivitis.
Viral conjunctivitis and bacterial conjunctivitis are both contagious in nature. In either of the conditions, the eye infection could be in one or both eyes. The infection could spread either by direct or indirect contact with the liquid that is discharged from the eye. Patients with the condition are likely to experience a discharge from the eye, and coming in touch with this liquid could cause the infection to spread.
Irritation induced conjunctivitis
Conjunctivitis as a result of irritation is also relatively common. For instance, exposure to chemicals or the lodging of a foreign object in the eye could also cause conjunctivitis. In certain instances, the inflammation and reddish appearance is also attributed to the attempt to rid the eye of the chemical substance or foreign object lodged in the eye.
The commonly reported symptoms associated with conjunctivitis caused by irritation are slightly different. For instance the patient may experience watery eyes. It is also possible that a mucus discharge may be observed. This typically clears up in a shorter period, often within one day. In most instances, this resolves naturally without the need for any additional treatment. In the event that the cleaning of the eye does not fetch the desired results, it may be necessary to seek assistance from an eye specialist. For instance, certain chemicals such as lye, that are caustic in nature, would be tough to clean and flush from the eye. Certain chemicals can also result in permanent damage to the eye. Individuals experiencing persisting symptoms need assistance from an eye specialist. For instance, certain symptoms may indicate that the foreign object is still lodged in the eye, or it could have resulted in scratching the cornea. This will require proper attention and treatment. Similarly, another possibility from the foreign body includes a scratch of the sclera.
These conditions are not contagious in nature, as the conjunctivitis is induced as a result of irritation or exposure to foreign objects. This will therefore not present any kind of a problem to individuals who come in contact with the tears from the eye of the infected patient.
Conjunctivitis from allergies
Exposure to substances that trigger allergies such as pollens can result in allergic conjunctivitis. Individuals with allergic conjunctivitis typically experience the condition in both the eyes. As a result of the exposure to the allergens, antibodies are released by the body. Consequently, the release of antibodies results in the mast cells releasing inflammatory histamines. This occurs in the lining of the eye and the airways. As a result of this mast cell release, the individual with the condition is likely to experience all symptoms and indications of allergic conjunctivitis, including reddish or pinkish appearance in the eyes and inflammation.
Other commonly associated symptoms include formation of tears and extreme itching sensation in the eyes. Individuals with allergic conjunctivitis are most likely to experience nasal discharge that is watery in nature, in addition to sneezing. It is important to understand that allergic conjunctivitis can be managed with allergy eye drops that give faster results. Conjunctivitis as a result of exposure to allergies are typically known to resolve fast, unlike viral or bacterial conjunctivitis.
What are the complications commonly associated with the condition?
There are complications that are commonly associated with the condition. For instance, some kind of impact on the vision is possible as a result of inflammation of the cornea. This is generally temporary in nature and will resolve with the condition. This complication is common to both adults and children. It is necessary to seek assessment from an eye specialist to quickly diagnose and treat the condition. For instance, a sensation of an object remaining lodged in the eye, pain in the eye, sensitivity to light, or blurred vision are all possible indicators of conjunctivitis. With the right kind of timely treatment it is possible to quickly treat the condition.
How to prevent the spread of conjunctivitis?
It is necessary to take adequate precautions and prevent the spread of conjunctivitis. Here is a look at some of the simple methods by which it is possible to prevent the spread of pink eye.
Individuals with the condition are expected not to share objects of personal use such as towels and wash clothes. This will prevent the infection from being spread to others who used the same material.
Towels and wash clothes that are used need to be cleaned daily, with a fresh one being used everyday. It is necessary to ensure that the same towel and wash cloth is not used for more than one day.
It is necessary to change the pillow covers frequently as unhygienic conditions could cause bacterial conjunctivitis.
Individuals with the condition or those who come in contact with individuals with the condition are expected to wash hands frequently. In the case of individuals who come in contact with confirmed cases of conjunctivitis, it is necessary to immediately wash hands.
Touching the eyes with the hands frequently or habitually is to be stopped as this could be one of the routes of transmission of viral/bacterial conjunctivitis.
Individuals with the condition are expected to discard use of eye cosmetics till the infection fully clears. Eye cosmetics are not to be shared, as applicators used for eye makeup can be a route for spread of the infection.
How to prevent conjunctivitis in new born babies
As mentioned earlier, conjunctivitis in newborn babies are a possibility as a result of various conditions. For instance, the bacteria that is present in in the mother can be transmitted to the eyes of newborn babies. In such cases, the bacteria does not pose any kind of harm to the mother but could result in conjunctivitis in the child. In a limited number of cases, these bacterial infections can result in serious type of conjunctivitis. Known in medical circles as ophthalmia neonatorum, this form of conjunctivitis is serious in nature and requires prompt treatment. Failure to detect and treat the condition may result in loss of vision or impaired vision in the baby. This is precisely why antibiotic ointments are applied to newborn children after birth. The arrangement helps in preventing eye infection attributed to bacteria in the the mother.
How long does it typically take for pink eye to resolve
In a large number of cases, conjunctivitis is generally mild in nature. Infections that are mild in nature are generally known to resolve in in a week’s time naturally and without any treatment. This could take as long as two weeks in certain cases. In such conditions there is a very limited possibility of any long-term impact from the infection. Depending on the type of conjunctivitis it may be necessary to use specific medication for treating the condition. For instance, antiviral medication may be necessary to treat various forms of conjunctivitis – such as those that are attributed to herpes simplex virus or varicella zoster virus.
Antibiotic treatment is generally prescribed as topical eye drops for patients with bacterial conjunctivitis. This treatment regimen is typically used when the patient has symptoms that confirm bacterial conjunctivitis. This helps in faster resolution of the problem, and reducing the possibility of spreading of the infection. The use of antibiotic topical eye drops helps in preventing the condition from manifesting into other complications. It is typically used when the patient it is presented with discharge from the eye and when the possibility of specific strains of bacteria are confirmed. It generally takes around five days for the condition to resolve with treatment. However, it is also possible for bacterial conjunctivitis to resolve naturally without any medical treatment in 2 weeks.
How to identify if a person is at risk of having pink eye
It is necessary to understand the various conditions that put an individual in the high risk category. For instance an individual who is allergic to certain substances needs to understand when he or she has been exposed to the substance. This will help to quickly identify allergic conjunctivitis. Similarly, an individual who has been exposed or who has come in contact with a confirmed patient of viral or bacterial conjunctivitis, is at risk of contracting the condition. In such cases it is necessary to seek medical attention or take adequate preventive measures for mitigating the condition and preventing its spread.
Individuals who wear contact lenses are expected to follow hygienic practices that will help in the prevention of bacterial conjunctivitis. Individuals who use extended wear contact lenses are in high risk category, as this can result in possible bacterial conjunctivitis. The moment pink eye is suspected as a result of bacteria from contact lenses, it is necessary to temporarily stop usage of the contact lenses. The contact lenses are to be worn only after confirmation that the condition has fully resolved.
Depending on the intensity of the symptoms, it is not necessary in all the cases to seek medical attention. In most cases, conjunctivitis resolves naturally without the need for medical attention. However it is safe to ensure that adequate precautions are taken to prevent the spread of the infection to others. It is also necessary to seek medical attention when the infection is intense or it does not resolve within a specific time.