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Patient education: Conjunctivitis (pink eye) (The Basics)

Patient education: Conjunctivitis (pink eye) (The Basics)

What is pink eye? — Pink eye is a term people use to describe an infection or irritation of the eye. The medical term for pink eye is "conjunctivitis."

If you have pink eye, your eye (or eyes) might:

Turn pink or red

Weep or ooze a gooey liquid

Become itchy or burn

Get stuck shut, especially when you first wake up

Pink eye can be caused by an infection, allergies, or an unknown irritation.

Can you catch pink eye from someone else? — Yes. When pink eye is caused by an infection, it can spread easily. Usually, people catch it from touching something that has been in contact with an infected person's eye. It can also be spread when an infected person touches someone else, and then that person touches their eye.

If someone you know has pink eye, avoid touching their pillowcases, towels, or other personal items.

When should I see a doctor or nurse? — See your doctor or nurse if your eye hurts, or if you still have trouble seeing clearly after blinking. If you do not have these problems, but think you might have pink eye, your doctor or nurse might be able to give you advice over the phone.

Can pink eye be treated? — Most cases of pink eye go away on their own without treatment. But some types of pink eye can be treated.

When pink eye is caused by infection, it is usually caused by a virus, so antibiotics will not help. Still, pink eye caused by a virus can last several days.

Pink eye caused by an infection with bacteria can be treated with antibiotic eye drops, gel, or ointment.

Pink eye caused by other problems can be treated with eye drops normally used to treat allergies. These drops will not cure the pink eye, but they can help with itchiness and irritation.

When using eye drops for infection, do not touch your healthy eye after touching your infected eye. Also, do not touch the bottle or dropper directly onto 1 eye and then use it in the other. These things can cause the infection to spread from 1 eye to the other.

If your eyelids feel swollen, it might also help to hold a cool wet cloth on the area.

What if I wear contact lenses? — If you wear contact lenses and you have symptoms of pink eye, it is really important to have a doctor look at your eyes. In people who wear contacts, the symptoms of pink eye can be caused by "corneal abrasion." Corneal abrasion is a scratch on the eye and can be a serious problem.

During treatment for eye infections, you might need to stop wearing your contacts for a short time. If your contacts are disposable, throw them away and use new ones. If your contacts are not disposable, you need to carefully clean them. You should also throw away your contact lens case and get a new one.

When can I go back to work or school? — If you have pink eye caused by an infection, remember that it can spread very easily. The best way to avoid spreading it is to stay away from other people until you no longer have symptoms. If this is not possible, wash your hands often (table 1). It's also important to avoid touching your eyes and sharing items that could spread the infection.

Schools and day cares usually have rules about when a child with pink eye can return. If a child has a bacterial infection, they will probably need to stay home until they have gotten antibiotic eye drops or ointment for 24 hours.

Can pink eye be prevented? — To keep from getting or spreading pink eye caused by an infection:

Wash your hands often with soap and water.

Try not to touch your eyes.

Avoid sharing towels, bedding, or other personal items with a person who has pink eye.

If your pink eye is caused by allergies, it might help to stay inside with the windows shut as much as possible during peak allergy seasons.

What problems should I watch for? — Call your doctor or nurse if:

You have trouble seeing clearly after blinking.

Your eye is still red or has drainage after 3 days.

You have eye pain that is getting worse.

More on this topic

Patient education: Pterygium (The Basics)

Patient education: Conjunctivitis (pink eye) (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Allergic conjunctivitis (Beyond the Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Jan 01, 2023.
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