Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, is an inflammation of the eye that is commonly caused by a bacterial or viral infection. Some people get pink eye because of allergies. Symptoms of pink eye can include having red eyes, feeling pain in the eyes and being sensitive to light. Pink eye caused by viruses and allergies may go away without medical treatment. While doctors sometimes prescribe pink eye ointments to treat adults with bacterial infections, prescribing eye drops is more common.
The conjunctiva is the transparent part of the eye that covers the white part of the eyeball and runs up on the insides of the eye lids. This membrane's function is to lubricate the eye through tears and mucous production. Pink eye is an inflammation of the conjunctiva.
Along with bacteria, viruses and allergies, conjunctivitis can be caused by irritants such as chemicals or other foreign objects. Other causes of pink eye include the use of extended wear contact lenses, fungi, and parasites. Babies may get pink eye because their tear ducts are not yet completely opened.
Typically, having pink eye is irritating, but not overly dangerous. The concerns about conjunctivitis center more on the communicability of the problem. People who have bacterial infections can continue to infect others for as long as two weeks after pink eye appears. Vision can be affected if the conjunctivitis inflammation comes with an inflammation of the eye's cornea.
In addition to prescribing eye drops or pink eye ointments, doctors may suggest using warm compresses to cover closed eyes to help relieve the symptoms of conjunctivitis. Doctors may prescribe medications such as antihistamines, steroids, or decongestants to deal with pink eye caused by allergies. People who have viral pink eye may have to apply anti-bacterial eye drops as a preventative measure.
Infants and young babies are often prescribed a pink eye ointment to treat bacterial infections. One of reasons that doctors may prescribe a pink eye ointment for a baby rather than eye drops is that parents may find that applying pink eye ointment is easier than using eye drops when dealing with an infant. A side effect of using a pink eye ointment is that vision can be blurred for 20 minutes. Adults would have more a problem with this side effect than babies.
Adults should consult with their physicians if they have pink eye symptoms for three or four days. According to the Mayo Clinic, conjunctivitis is one of the top five reasons that children miss school, so parents should get medical advice to address pink eye promptly. Doctors typically treat newborns with pink eye right away to prevent complications.