Pink may be perfect, but when it comes to eyes, it’s never a color you want to see. Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is an inflammation of the lining of the eye’s white and eyelid, and it is common, especially among children. There are three main types: bacterial, viral and allergic, says Joshua Davidson OD, FAAO, FSLS, optometrist with Williamson Eye Center.
“Bacterial presents with a typical kind of crusty, matting of the eyelids. You tend to get this white yellow discharge,” Dr. Davidson says. Bacterial pink eye is an infection and would be treated with antibiotic eye drops. These take about 24 hours to get in the system and start working, and bacterial pink eye resolves between three and ten days. “As soon as symptoms appear, and as long as the eye is weeping, you’re contagious,” Dr. Davidson says.
Viral pink eye is the most contagious type and can spread with the lightest touch. “Even before your eye is pink, you’re contagious,” Dr. Davidson says. It can be spread as long as symptoms are present, and the virus lasts about a month in young healthy kids. “There’s really no FDA-approved treatment for viral, but a steroid eye drop can speed up the healing process.” Some doctors will do an eye wash to kill the virus.
Pink eye due to allergies is not contagious and can be treated with allergy eye drops. “Those don’t go away until the allergies do,” Dr. Davidson says.
Proper pink eye treatment requires a doctor, and delaying is never a good idea. “That’s when we see the really bad cases,” Dr. Davidson says. Warm compresses and lubricating eye drops can make eyes feel a little better temporarily.
When pink eye is diagnosed, the first thing to do is clean everything. “Clorox wipes are a good thing to have,” Dr. Davidson says. Clothes and bedding should be washed separately on hot cycles. And unless it’s allergies, your pink-eyed little one needs to stay home.
Pink eye prevention comes down to good hygiene and washing hands with soap and warm water on the regular. Don’t share personal items, including hand towels, and keep hands away from eyes to avoid spreading bacteria and viruses.