Pink Eye is the common name used by people when describing the medical condition conjunctivitis, the main symptom of which is a pale bloodshot eye that because of the white background of the eyeball surface often looks pink in colour.

The suffix of conjunctivitis gives a clue to the nature of the symptoms of pink eye, words ending in “itis” meaning inflammation. Pink eye then describes the swelling, pain and tenderness associated with the body’s mechanism to counteract a disease.

There are two types of pink eye, infectious and non-infectious.

Infectious Pink Eye

This type can be further broken down into different kinds of infection – bacterial, viral and chlamydial.

  • Bacterial

Bacteria are everywhere in the body, mostly good, with only some 10% bad, which is a surprise to many people.

A pink eye bacterial infection is definitely one of the bad kinds and being highly contagious is spread through contact with people or things harbouring the bacteria. Touching a kitchen surface, a door knob, a computer keyboard or a shared phone recently touched by someone infectious with bacterial pink eye is tempting fate.

The symptoms of bacterial pink eye are first and foremost of course the “pink eye” giving the name, along with a sticky discharge from the eyes which can look ugly and prevent the eyes opening naturally in the morning.

Treatment is straightforward as with most bacterial infections, antibiotics acting quickly and in this case more so since medication can be applied directly with an ointment on the eyelids or eye drops in the eye.

  • Viral

This kind of infectious pink eye is spread by a virus which is an organism that thrives in the human body.

The list of symptoms can easily be mistaken for those of a bacterial infection so a quick initial and accurate diagnosis is sometimes not forthcoming.

Slight differences may be that with viral pink eye, the eyes could be more pink with watery discharge rather than more pus like in bacterial pink eye.  It is sometimes difficult to be precise. Even family members struck down with the same strain of virus can show divergent symptoms.  What is important to understand is:
1.    Bacterial Pink Eye makes up less 5% of cases in an adult population.
2.    The vast majority of Pink eye in an adult population is viral.
3.    In a paediatric population though Bacterial Pink is more prevalent.

Treatment is definitely NOT by prescription of antibiotics. The usual strategy is to let the body do its work in fighting the infection, with help given by staying at home, no doubt to the relief of work colleagues. In a previous post we discussed a new treatment using iodine solution plus an anti-inflammatory.  Currently this is being used off label by some therapeutic optometrists and has proven to be very effective.  In due course an approved iodine / anti-inflammatory combination will change the treatment paradigm of viral conjunctivitis.

  • Chlamydial pink eye

Whilst usually spread through body contact – Chlamydia is a notifiable sexually transmitted disease – there are cases in which only the chlamydial eye infection itself has been transmitted through use of shared towels for example.

A course of special drugs is required to treat this infection since care must be taken that the body itself does not become infected.

Non-infectious Pink Eye

Some people who have allergic reactions to materials and the environment exhibit pink eye symptoms along with the runny noses, blocked sinuses and headaches they normally get.

Examples of materials are certain brands of washing powder and fabric softener, pool chemicals, fur from animals, especially cat and even clothes that have been near cats.

The environmental causes are the usual hay fever type events such as pollen in spring and grass mowing. Winter time can be bad for anyone with a history of allergic pink eye as enclosed spaces with heaters, especially reverse cycle air conditioners, churn up dust and mould.

Effective treatment of allergic pink eye is through the use of antihistamines, but prevention is to be preferred by avoiding the source where possible.

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