Pink eye is commonly caused by a bacterial or viral infection. Pink eye (conjunctivitis) is an inflammation or infection of the membrane (conjunctiva) that lines your eyelids and covers the white part of your eyeballs. It is the inflammation of the small blood vessels in the eyes that leads to their reddish or pink appearance. Though pink eye can be irritating, it rarely affects your vision. Treatments will help ease the discomfort.
Pink eye can be highly contagious for as long as two weeks after signs and symptoms begin. They are spread through direct or indirect contact with the eye secretions of someone who's infected. Early diagnosis and treatment can protect the people around you from getting pink eye.
Both viral and bacterial pink eye may affect one or both eyes. Viral pinkeye usually produces a watery discharge. Bacterial pinkeye often produces a thicker, yellow-green discharge. Both viral and bacterial pink eye can be associated with colds or with symptoms of a respiratory infection, such as a sore throat.
Adults and children alike can develop both of these types of pink eye. However, bacterial pink eye is more prevalent in children than it is in adults.
If your pink eye infection is bacterial, your doctor may prescribe antibiotic eye drops and the infection should go away within several days. Antibiotic eye ointment, in place of eye drops, is sometimes prescribed for treating bacterial pink eye in children. An ointment is often easier to administer to an infant or young child than eye drops, though the ointment may blur vision for up to 20 minutes after application. With either form of medication, expect signs and symptoms to start getting better in a few days. Follow your doctor's instructions and use the antibiotics for the complete period prescribed to prevent recurrence of the infection.
There is no treatment for most cases of viral pink eye. Instead, the virus needs time to run its course — up to two or three weeks. Viral conjunctivitis often begins in one eye and then infects the other eye within a few days. Your signs and symptoms should gradually clear on their own.
Antiviral medications may be an option if your doctor determines that your viral conjunctivitis is caused by the herpes simplex virus.
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