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How To Treat Pink Eye: Drugs And Remedies For Conjunctivitis

pink eye infection

Pink eye symptoms are painful and the illness can last for weeks.  The signs of pink eye include an itching sensation, burning eyes, blurred vision, and excessive tearing or pus around your eyelids.  Around 2% of people suffer from conjunctivitis (the medical name for the condition) every year, so knowing how to treat pink eye is important.

Treating Pinkeye Symptoms

Itchy eyes are one of the most common symptoms of pink eye.  Artificial tears help to prevent that dry, gritty feeling.  You can also use eye drops containing a vasoconstrictor, which will narrow the blood vessels in your eyeball.  This reduces redness and stops the burning feeling.  If you’ve got a crusty discharge coming out, try using gentle antiseptic creams to keep the skin around your eyes comfortable.  You can also clean the area by rinsing your eyes with warm water or a saline eyewash.

Heat or cold can also help to soothe itchy eyes.  If you’re using artificial tears or eye drops for pink eye, try keeping the bottle in the refrigerator for a cooling sensation when you apply them.  You can try holding a hot or ice-cold washcloth against your closed eyelids – use whichever feels more comfortable for you.  (Just make sure you toss the washcloth straight into the laundry then wash it in very hot water, because eye infection spreads easily and you don’t want to spread germs all over your home.)

Once you notice conjunctivitis symptoms you’re already contagious, and it’s easy to accidentally re-infect yourself after treatment.  Make sure you sterilise or throw out anything which touches your face regularly, such as pillowcases, makeup, or swimming goggles.  Leave contact lenses out while you’re infected, to avoid aggravating your eyeballs, and get a new pair of lenses afterwards in case traces of the infection remain on the lenses you used before symptoms appeared.

What Is Pink Eye?

Pink eye is a general term, not a specific illness; it describes a hundred different diseases which have similar symptoms.  Conjunctivitis can be caused by contact lenses, it can be a complication of pneumonia, it can be a type of chlamydia.  That’s why it can be hard to find the right treatment for pink eye.

Different Types Of Pinkeye:

Bacterial conjunctivitis is the most common type.  Symptoms include redness, itching, swollen eyes, and a thick discharge which can glue your eyelids together painfully overnight.  It’s very contagious and spreads by touch.

Viral conjunctivitis has many of the same symptoms, but the discharge from your eyes is usually thin and clear, like tears.  You may also have distorted vision.  This type is often a side-effect of a respiratory infection (such as a cold or sore throat) which has spread from your throat into your eyes.  It can be spread by coughs or sneezes, making it even more contagious than the bacterial type.

Sometimes pinkeye symptoms of itching, redness, and tears are caused by exposure to an irritant (e.g. smoke) or an allergen (e.g. pollen).  This is known as allergic conjunctivitis.

Medical Treatments

The eye is designed to keep itself clean, which means that most cases of conjunctivitis will start to get better after a few days with some gentle home treatments.  If your symptoms persist for more than a week, it’s recommended that you seek medical help.  Unlike most illnesses, conjunctivitis can be caused by a variety of different things; in order for pink eye treatments to be effective, you need to know whether you have bacterial or viral conjunctivitis.  A doctor may want to take a swab from your eyelid to find out the cause of your illness.

Bacterial Conjunctivitis

Bacterial pink eye is easily spread by dirty hands, which is why it’s so common amongst pre-schoolers.

Happily, it’s pretty easy to treat.  Antibiotic eye drops generally start to take effect within 24 hours, and you can sometimes buy them from the drugstore without a prescription.  If your symptoms continue after a week of treatment, a doctor will usually take a sample of the discharge for testing in order to prescribe a more powerful antibiotic which is targeted to your infection.

Viral Conjunctivitis

Viral conjunctivitis treatment is different because antibiotics are useless against viruses.   For mild cases of viral pink-eye, it’s best to wait for the infection to clear up naturally.  Conjunctivitis is a common side-effect of other viral illnesses, such as measles or the ‘flu, and will usually disappear after the underlying illness has been treated.  Eyedrops with vasoconstrictors can reduce redness, and a low dose of antihistamine will reduce itching.

Other treatments are available, but they often have severe side-effects.  A short course of steroids may be prescribed if the infection is severe enough to affect your vision.  Anti-viral eyedrops can be used if the condition is related to the herpes virus.

Because all these treatments are fairly harsh, doctors only prescribe them as a last resort, and encourage patients to start by using natural remedies for viral infections and giving the body a chance to heal on its own.

Allergic Conjunctivitis

The only effective treatment for allergic conjunctivitis is to stay away from whatever causes it, whether it’s pet dander or dust.  In the meantime, oral antihistamines reduce itching and eyedrops can stop the redness and the gritty feeling.  Wearing sunglasses or even swimming goggles will keep particles out of your eyes.  Some hayfever sufferers rub sticky Vaseline on their eyelashes to catch pollen.

Take contact lenses out at night and disinfect them thoroughly to prevent eye infections.  If you get conjunctivitis regularly, consider changing the type of lenses you use or switching to glasses, because some people find that their contact lenses cause a type of allergic conjunctivitis.

Doctors can prescribe extra-powerful eyedrops – either antihistamines to dampen down the body’s immune response, or mast-cell stabilisters to temporarily freeze the cells which cause swelling.  If the allergy is so bad that your eyesight is affected, steroids may be used as a treatment, but these can damage your eyes with long-term use so should be used carefully.


Home Remedies To Treat Pinkeye

No matter what causes pinkeye in your case, natural home remedies are a great way to ease the symptoms.

Many natural treatments are already recommended by doctors, like bathing the eye in warm water, using cold cloths to soothe itching, and cleaning the area with a mild salt solution.

Hot or cold compresses are one of the most popular types of treatment for pinkeye, and teabags are especially suitable for this.  Make two cups of tea and put the hot bags against your eyes, or stick the wet bags in the refrigerator and use them cold.  (You can use green, black, or chamomile tea: avoid flavoured herbal teas as they often contain sugar which can cause irritation.)  You can also wipe cooling aloe vera gel on the skin, but be careful not to get it into your eye.  Cooling slices of cucumber or potato have a similar effect.

There are also some more extreme treatments you can read about online.  Eye drops made from human breast milk, compresses made of turmeric, wiping vinegar around your eyes… When it comes to natural treatment for conjunctivitis, remember that if a home remedy is powerful enough to kill bacteria then it may be powerful enough to damage your eyesight.

Treating Conjunctivitis In Children

Pink eye in babies is incredibly common.  In newborns, conjunctivitis is often due to infected fluid getting into the eyes during childbirth; you should always take a baby to the doctor if they show symptoms of conjunctivitis, since some types can cause blindness if left untreated.  You baby may have picked up a common case of bacterial pinkeye from an older sibling, but they need to be examined by a doctor just in case it’s something more serious.

Pink eye in toddlers and older children is usually the bacterial type, which often goes around schools and kindergartens like wildfire because it’s so contagious.  Because it’s so hard to get toddlers to keep their hands clean or stop them poking at itchy eyes, most kindergartens ask parents to keep their children at home when they have conjunctivitis even if they feel fine.  Treatments for children are the same as for adults, except that you should always seek medical advice at the beginning of the illness rather than waiting to see if it persists.

How To Prevent Future Infections

The viruses and bacteria which cause eye infections are highly contagious.  Wash your hands regularly, avoid rubbing your face, and don’t share anything which might touch your face (like a towel or pillow) with another person.  If someone in your home or workplace already has pink-eye, disinfect shared surfaces like door handles and phones to stop the infection spreading.  By keeping hands and surfaces clean you can reduce the chances of needing treatment for pink eye.

Jessie L.
Jessie is a wellness enthusiast. Her goal is to help people have a healthier life.

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