Pink Eyes Cases Spike: What is this Infection?

written by Dr. Bolanle Aina - Mar 25, 2024

Your eye is an important yet delicate organ susceptible to infections and injuries. One such infection is pink eyes, or what doctors call conjunctivitis. Conjunctivitis occurs when the blood vessels of the eye conjunctiva are inflamed. The conjunctiva is a special mucous membrane that covers the eyelids and eyeballs. In people with conjunctivitis, the white of the eyes is pinkish or reddish, and the affected eye is puffy with discharge coming out.

Bacteria, viruses, and allergens are the common causes of pink eyes, with viral conjunctivitis accounting for more than 70% of all cases. Most cases of conjunctivitis are self-limited. That is, conjunctivitis usually resolves on its own after a few days. However, doctors may prescribe antibiotics for bacterial conjunctivitis and sometimes recommend off-label use of antibiotics for viral conjunctivitis. Antihistamines respond to allergy-induced pink eyes. Home remedies may include a warm compress, over-the-counter artificial tears, and pain relievers. In any case, however, prevention is better, and we will discuss how to prevent pink eyes in this article.

Read on to learn the causes, symptoms, and prevention of pink eyes.

Pink Eyes Cases Spike: What is this Infection?

What age groups are more prone to pink eye?

Approximately 6 million US people are experiencing pink eyes, especially since it is a common problem in children under the age of 5. However, people of all ages can get it. Children are more prone to pink eye because children are more likely to touch dirty and contaminated surfaces and less likely to wash their hands properly. Hence the need to encourage proper hand washing among school children.

What season of the year is pink eye most common?

Although you can get pink eye at any season of the year, it's believed that more indoor activities and increased proximity are common during winter and may add to infection incidence during this period. Therefore, you should maintain a reasonable distance and improve personal hygiene.

Symptoms of pink eyes

Pink eyes are a common problem in children; however, people of all ages can get it. It may start with one eye or both, depending on the cause. Symptoms may vary with cause. However, common symptoms of pink eyes include:

* Swollen eyelids

* Itchiness in one or both eyes (common in allergic conjunctivitis)

* Redness of the eye (due to irritants and chemicals)

* Sensitivity to light

* A gritty feeling in the infected eye (s)

* A discharge in the infected eye(s)

Bacteria conjunctivitis presents with a yellow or green sticky discharge throughout the day. On the other hand, viral conjunctivitis produces a clear, watery discharge during the day and is usually sticky in the morning.

Other Conditions That May Be Mistaken for Pink Eyes

Pink eyes should not be confused with other conditions that share similar symptoms. Some conditions commonly misdiagnosed as pink eyes include:

* Stye

* Blepharitis

* Keratitis

* Allergies

* Dry eye

So, consult your doctor if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms above. Those symptoms may signal a different eye problem.

Causes and Types of Pink Eyes

Viruses, bacteria, and allergens are the leading causes of pink eyes. Other causes include irritants, fungi, contact lens wear, chemicals, and smoke. Conjunctivitis is named according to the cause, and based on this naming, the three major types are:

1. Viral conjunctivitis

2. Bacteria conjunctivitis

3. Allergic conjunctivitis

Viral Conjunctivitis

Pink eyes are commonly associated with conjunctivitis caused by a virus, and it accounts for about 75% of all adult cases, with adenovirus being the major culprit. Recent reports say the most current strain of the COVID-19 virus, Arcturus causes conjunctivitis along with fever. However, not everyone who gets Arcturus develops symptoms of conjunctivitis. It is important to visit your eye doctor for proper examination.

Like every common cold-related infection, viral conjunctivitis may resolve on its own. It may last for 14-30 days. But it’s only highly contagious for about 10-14 days. Viral conjunctivitis has no treatment, but eye doctors may prescribe betadine - a formulation of povidone and iodine as an off-label treatment. In test tube studies, povidone-iodine is said to possess anti-viral activity against adenovirus. Sometimes, doctors may prescribe topical steroids; Predforte. However, their use in viral conjunctivitis is seriously discouraged due to safety concerns.

Bacterial Conjunctivitis

Bacteria is the second-leading cause of pink eyes. In children, conjunctivitis due to bacteria tends to be more common than the viral form. Most cases of bacterial conjunctivitis are linked to species of Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, and Haemophilus.

Bacterial conjunctivitis may take 1-2 weeks to go away, and it's usually highly contagious. Doctors may prescribe antibiotics in the form of eye drops or ointment such as Ciloxan, Tobrex, Vigamox to shorten the duration of treatment. Antibiotics can also be combined with anti-inflammatory steroids in products such as Tobradex to control the infection.

Allergic conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis is caused by direct contact with allergens such as dust, pollen, animal dander, etc. Allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious, unlike bacteria, and viral pink eyes. Most times, allergic conjunctivitis comes with itchiness and a runny nose. Antihistamines such as Patanol, Pataday, are the drugs of choice for allergic conjunctivitis.

Additionally, home remedies for bacteria, viral, and allergic pink eyes may include placing a warm, damp washcloth over the infected eyes for a few minutes. Use a clean cloth but don’t use the same cloth if both eyes are infected. Repeat it as often as you can every day.

How is Pink Eye Infection Transmitted? Is Pink Eye Contagious?

Let us burst a myth about pink eyes here. Pink eye is not transmitted by looking into the eyes of an infected person. Instead, it spreads by direct contact with an infected person or surface. Also, pink eyes due to bacteria and viruses are very contagious, but allergic conjunctivitis and the rest are not.

The method of transmission could be hand-to-eye, airborne, or sexual. For instance, if your hands make contact with an infected surface, you may transfer them to your eyes. Bacteria from insects and contaminated makeup may also cause you to get pink eyes. People with upper respiratory tract infections such as common cold are also at risk. In an upper respiratory tract infection, the mucous membrane connecting the lungs, nose and eyes is infected. Exposure to coughing or sneezing from these people may also put you at risk.

There’s another type of conjunctivitis common to sexually active people. It’s known as Chlamydia conjunctivitis or adult inclusion conjunctivitis. It spreads via hand-to-eye contact with the semen of someone infected with Chlamydia trachomatis. Research says it accounts for about 5% of all cases of acute conjunctivitis.

Pink Eyes Vs. Allergic Conjunctivitis

Pink eyes and allergic conjunctivitis are two types of conjunctivitis. Yet the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment vary. So, what are the key differences between pink eyes and allergic conjunctivitis?

Symptoms and Signs

1. Pink eyes usually start with one eye and may spread to both eyes, but allergic conjunctivitis affects both eyes at once.

2. Pink eye infection is less likely to cause itching, but itchiness is a star symptom of allergic conjunctivitis

3. Swollen eyes are common with allergic conjunctivitis; however, pink eyes may not swell but rather sticky

4. A runny nose usually accompanies allergic conjunctivitis but not with viral or bacterial conjunctivitis.

Causes

Bacteria or viruses cause pink eyes, while allergens cause allergic conjunctivitis.

Treatment

Antihistamines, cool compresses, and eye drops are used to treat allergic conjunctivitis while antibiotics, artificial tears, and eye steroid drops are used to treat pink eyes.

It’s necessary to consult your doctor for a proper diagnosis, as you cannot rely on symptoms alone for self-medication.

6 Expert Tips to Prevent Pink Eyes

1. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water, and avoid touching your eyes with your hands. Help and remind little children to do the same.

2. Do not share personal items such as eye drops, makeup, contact lenses, bedding, etc.

3. Clean your contact lenses regularly and replace them if necessary

4. Do not use expired eye makeup

5. Wash and change your pillowcase regularly

6. Avoid close contact with allergens or infected persons

Conclusion

Pink eye infection is an inflammation of the tissue lining your eyelids and eyeballs. It's caused by direct contact with an infected person or contaminated surface. Most cases of pink eyes resolve on their own, but it's important to seek help if symptoms persist. Since pink eyes share close similarities with other eye conditions, we emphasize the need to consult your doctor. An eye doctor will examine your eyes to rule out other possible causes of eye problems and prescribe necessary treatments. You can also protect yourself by ensuring personal hygiene and following the prevention tips highlighted.

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DISCLAIMER

While the above article is based on thorough research, we do not claim to offer a substitute for medical advice from a qualified healthcare provider. The article was written for information and educational purposes only. We aim to provide helpful information to our readers, but cannot provide a treatment, diagnosis, or consultation of any sort, and we are in no way indicating that any particular drug is safe or appropriate for you and your individual needs. To receive professional medical attention, you must see a doctor.