Red eye infection is a general classification for an inflammation of the conjunctiva, also referred to as pink eye. This viral health problem is common and often occurs in children. Many different eye irritants such as fungus or chlorine from swimming pools can cause this condition. The eye infection usually goes away within 10 days.
Conjunctivitis is the medical term for pink eye, caused by bacteria, allergies, lack of tears, and wearing contact lenses for extended periods of time. It stems from the conjunctiva, a mucus membrane lining the eyelid and eyeball surface. Aside from swelling, this condition also occurs when the conjunctiva is infected. Red eye infection usually involves the eyeball only, while the eyelid lining remains clear. This lining can still become irritated or swollen if an infection is present.
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There are four types of red eye infections including bacterial, allergic, chemical, and viral conjunctivitis. Bacterial and viral conjunctivitis are very contagious, usually associated with colds. As the most common type of red eye infection, bacterial conjunctivitis can sometimes be prevented with good hygiene practices. The spread of pink eye is mainly due to improper hand washing. Sharing objects such as washcloths or cosmetics with someone who has the condition can also spread the infection. People who wear contact lenses must clean these items properly and replace them or other eye cosmetics often to prevent conjunctivitis.
Symptoms of a red eye infection can vary by the type and cause but usually includes itching, especially in people exposed to allergens. Other types of conjunctivitis are indicated by the presence of burning sensations, sensitivity to light, an increase in tears, and blurred vision. People with the condition may also experience an overnight formation of crusts or yellow discharge in the eyelid.
Treating a red eye infection is relatively simple and can sometimes be done at home, depending on what caused the condition. In cases where eyes are injured due to chemical exposure, experts recommend washing them with clear and cold water. Immediate medical treatment is also required for people suffering from chemical conjunctivitis. Red eye infections caused by allergic reactions are treated with cool compresses, decongestants, and anti-histamines.
Doctors prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointment to treat bacterial conjunctivitis. While viral conjunctivitis will go away on its own, it can be treated with mild antibiotic eye drops to prevent a bacterial infection from occurring. Warm compresses can be applied to closed eyes as a way to soothe any related discomfort.