What is ‘Pink Eye?’

15 years ago

by Jessica Philbrook, O.D.
Special to The Houlton Pioneer Times

    Question: My child woke up this morning with her eyelids stuck together and her eyes are all pink and irritated.  I took to her the eye doctor and was told that she has conjunctivitis.  What is conjunctivitis and how did my child get it?
    Answer: Technically speaking, conjunctivitis is a reaction of the conjunctiva (white part of the eye).  This reaction can be caused by bacteria, viruses, allergies, and inflammation.  Bacterial conjunctivitis is often called “pink eye” and is very contagious.  We have seen recent outbreaks of this type of conjunctivitis in this area over the past couple of years.  
    Bacterial conjunctivitis is often associated with yellowish mucus in the eye and on the eyelids and can be contracted by touching any object that has the bacteria on it and then touching your eye.  People with bacterial conjunctivitis should stay out of work and school until they have been treated with an antibiotic eye drop for at least 48 hours.
    People should also understand that they must continue taking any prescribed eye drops for the entire time that their doctor recommends.  If you stop taking the drops early, any bacteria that are still present on the eye can become resistant to the drops and, if recurrence occurs, these resistant bacteria can be extremely hard to treat.
    Only your doctor can determine which type of conjunctivitis you have and there are different treatments for each type.  For all cases of conjunctivitis it is important to follow some simple steps to prevent recurrence.
    Always wash your hands before and after touching or rubbing your eyes. If diagnosed with conjunctivitis, use a clean, fresh pillowcase each night for the first few nights of treatment. Always take drops as prescribed by your doctor and do not stop the drops early.
    Wash household surfaces such as telephones, door knobs, faucet handles, computer keyboard that are frequently touched by family members. If you wear contact lenses, take them out and put in a brand new pair once your doctor has given you permission.
    For all cases of conjunctivitis, it is important that you see your doctor before instilling any drops into your eyes.  Taking prescription drops when they are not truly needed can also create resistant bacteria and could put you in a worse mess than you started out with.