With school in full swing, the threat of conjunctivitis, or pinkeye, is particularly strong. Although pinkeye doesn’t have a season, when kids are in close quarters they give it to each other—and to their parents.
Pinkeye refers to the pink tinge that develops on the cornea when the membrane on the inside of the eyelid—the conjunctiva—becomes inflamed, there are three kinds of pinkeye:
- Viral conjunctivitis is very contagious, but usually clears up on its own, as well as being difficult to treat medically. It’s characterized by light sensitivity and itchy, watery eyes.
- Bacterial conjunctivitis is transmitted by direct contact and should be treated with antibiotics, or there’s a risk of serious damage to the eye. This is the kind that causes the eyelids to be stuck shut, glued by a yellow or greenish-yellow discharge.
- Allergic conjunctivitis is caused by dust, dander, and other irritants, and treated with allergy medication. As with the viral kind, allergic conjunctivitis is seen as watery eyes and light sensitivity.
Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis pass readily from person to person, so if someone has pinkeye, it’s important to wipe down surfaces around them when you can. One of the most effective ways to avoid catching pinkeye from someone (or, if it’s too late for that, spreading it to other people) is to wash your hands with soap and water when cooking and when you get home from somewhere. Hand sanitizer—used judiciously—can help as well.
If someone does have pinkeye, a cool compress—a washcloth wetted with cool but not cold water and wrung out—can help alleviate some of the discomfort. The washcloth shouldn’t be reused, even by the same person, without being laundered first. Teabags, particularly green tea and chamomile, can also be soothing if made slightly wet and put on the eye. If medical treatment is needed, these techniques will not replace it.