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Pink eye, or more formally conjunctivitis, is an infection of the eye in which the clear membrane over the whites of your eyes becomes inflamed and irritated. Generally, the affected eye will be dry, itchy, and red, and the tear ducts will have a thick, mucus discharge. The eyelid and skin around the eye may or may not become puffy and swollen, as well.

Pink eye may be associated with allergies, a cold, or a cough, but it is most often caused by a bacterial or viral infection. Viral conjunctivitis will usually run its course over a few days and go away on its own, but bacterial conjunctivitis will not and must be treated with antibiotics. Both types are highly contagious, though bacterial pink eye tends to be more contagious than viral pink eye.

SYMPTOMS OF PINK EYE

The first symptom for many people is a persistent feeling that they have something in their eye. No matter how much you wipe, rub, or wash your eye out, you just can’t seem to get rid of that feeling. This is when most people will spread the infection to their other eye because they will unwittingly wipe or rub the infected eye and then won’t wash their hands before touching their face or their other eye again.

In addition to feeling like you have something in your eye, your eye will most likely begin to itch or burn. It will turn red or pink – hence the name – and you’ll notice discharge from your tear ducts. Viral pink eye is usually associated with a clear, watery discharge, while bacterial pink eye usually comes with a yellow or greenish discharge that’s thicker and more mucus-like.

With both bacterial and viral conjunctivitis, it is not uncommon to have your eye stuck shut after closing it for a time. This happens when the discharge dries around the eyelid and gums up in the eyelashes.

WHEN TO GO TO THE EYE DOCTOR

If your eye is red and itchy for a day or two, but you don’t notice any other symptoms, it’s not a bad idea to wash the eye out and apply some eye drops. However, if the symptoms continue or worsen, and you start to see discharge, it’s time to make an appointment with your ophthalmologist.

Even if you suspect that you have viral, rather than bacterial, conjunctivitis, it’s a good idea to see your doctor because making the wrong self-diagnosis could result in a lot more trouble. Your infection could spread to your other eye, not to mention to the people around you, and your symptoms could get a lot worse and result in serious damage.

WHAT TO DO IN THE MEANTIME


Until you can get to the doctor, make sure that you wash your hands regularly and try not to touch your infected eye. If you use any eye drops, do not keep the bottle for later use, as they could be contaminated and cause another infection later on. Try to stay hydrated, don’t wear any facial cosmetics, keep clean, and get to the eye doctor as soon as possible for treatment.

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