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Understanding Conjunctivitis

Every year in the United States, about 6 million people are diagnosed with conjunctivitis, which you might know by its more common name: pink eye. Conjunctivitis might seem like a relatively “simple” problem. But without proper — and quick — medical treatment, some conjunctivitis types can lead to serious problems, including ulcerated sores and permanent vision loss.

At Suburban Eyes Clinic in Evanston, Illinois, Phillip Wu, MD, can diagnose conjunctivitis during a comprehensive eye exam, offering advanced treatment methods to relieve pink-eye symptoms and prevent complications. Rapid treatment can also help prevent spreading an infection to someone else. If you think you might have pink eye, here’s what you should know.

Conjunctivitis 101

Conjunctivitis is an infection or inflammation of the conjunctiva, a clear membrane that covers the inside of your eyelids and your eye surface. During an infection or irritation, the tiny blood vessels inside the conjunctiva become inflamed, which is what causes your eyes to look pink or bloodshot.

Conjunctivitis can be caused by an allergic reaction or by an infection from either viruses or bacteria. Sometimes, it occurs alongside another common eyelid problem called blepharitis. The most common symptoms of conjunctivitis include:

While allergic conjunctivitis typically affects both eyes, pink eye caused by an infection may affect one or both eyes.

Conjunctivitis caused by an infection can be easily spread from one person to another, simply by rubbing your eye, then touching another surface. When that surface is touched by someone else, and they rub their eyes, the germs are transported to their new location. If you have pink eye symptoms, it’s critical not to rub your eyes and wash your hands frequently to prevent infecting other people.

Treating conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis treatment will depend on the root cause of the inflammation.

Allergic conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis occurs when an allergy trigger, like a fume or other airborne substance, causes your immune system to overreact. The reaction produces inflammation inside your conjunctiva. 

Allergic conjunctivitis usually can be treated by avoiding the substance that’s triggering the allergic reaction and by using special eye drops to help cleanse the eye and reduce the reaction causing inflammation. 

Bacterial and viral conjunctivitis

Bacterial and viral conjunctivitis occurs when germs infect the eye. Rubbing your eyes after touching an infected surface is one common way of “catching” infectious conjunctivitis. But germs can enter your eyes in other ways, too.

Both bacterial and viral conjunctivitis can develop following a cold or other respiratory infection when germs spread along your mucus membranes. You can also be infected when someone who has an infection coughs or sneezes near you, and tiny airborne droplets enter your eyes. Wearing contact lenses that haven’t been properly cleaned is another common source of infectious conjunctivitis.

Dr. Wu may prescribe antibiotic eye drops or oral antibiotics (or both). However, antibiotics won’t affect viral infections. In those cases, Dr. Wu will observe your infection to ensure it resolves over time, along with prescribing other methods to relieve your symptoms.

Don’t ignore your symptoms

Although some types of pink, like allergic conjunctivitis, may resolve on their own, there’s no way to tell what’s causing your specific symptoms without having an eye exam. Without a proper diagnosis, you could be allowing a potentially dangerous infection to progress into something dire.

If you have conjunctivitis symptoms, scheduling an eye exam is the fastest way to find relief and the best way to help protect your eyes and your vision. To book your visit, call our office or use our online form to request an appointment today.

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