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Ask Dr. Schauer ~ Pink Eye

“I’m a teacher and I had a parent insist that their child’s pink eye was not contagious. I thought pink eye was a virus and was very contagious? Are there different types of pink eye? Can you clear this up?”

We had a Bismarck listener ask a great question on our 103.3 US Country Thursday morning chat that is timely for the upcoming flu and cold season.

What is pink eye?

Sometimes folks loosely throw around the term “pink eye”and it becomes a catch-all phrase. Pink eye can also be commonly misdiagnosed at a general walk-in clinic if you do not see an optometrist or ophthalmologist.

Historically, true pink eye actually refers to viral conjunctivitis. As the name implies, this is a viral infection that occurs in the anterior ocular structure called the conjunctiva (the white part of the eye). Commonly, viral conjunctivitis can be caused by the same type of virus that causes the common cold or the flu, although you don’t have to be sick to contract viral conjunctivitis. There are different types of viral conjunctivitis depending on what type of virus caused the infection.

Viral conjunctivitis will often start in one eye but subsequently spread to the other eye since it is very contagious. If anyone remembers the winter Olympics in Russia, you probably heard of Bob Costas’ incident with pink eye!

For most cases of viral conjunctivitis, there isn’t really a treatment. There are palliative treatments to make you feel better, but just like the common cold needs to run its course, so does pink eye. Antibiotic eyedrops are very ineffective against viral conjunctivitis but unfortunately they are commonly incorrectly prescribed.

Are there other types of pink eye?

As stated above, true pink eye is viral conjunctivitis. But there may be other types of eye infections that get called “pink eye” because of their appearance.

Bacterial conjunctivitis is common in very young children and is also contagious. Typically the eyes will be very crusty (often crusted shut) and have a lot of “goopy” discharge. It often requires an antibiotic eyedrop to clear it up.

Allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious at all, but may very well mimic the same pink appearance that real pink eye manifests.

Certain cases of toxic conjunctivitis can occur with exposure to preservatives or accidents where chemicals get into the eye. As with allergic conjunctivitis, this is also not contagious.

Even chronic dry eye can cause the eyes to look red or pink! So there are a wide variety of things that can look like “pink eye” but actually aren’t.

What do I do if I think I have pink eye?

See your optometrist at Vision Source Mandan! We can diagnose the real cause of your symptoms and develop a specific treatment program based on the cause.

 

 

Top image by Flickr user Julian Tysoe (location) used under Creative Commons Attribution-Sharelike 4.0 License. Image has been cropped and modified from original. Image rights state commercial use and modifications allowed when image was obtained on 10/17/2017.

The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.