Keeping Pinkeye at Bay

woman with pinkeyeLast week, amidst talk of glittering figure skater costumes, “#SochiProblems” and how exactly curling works, one topic took center stage: conjunctivitis, better known as pinkeye.

This dreaded affliction reared its ugly head–and eyes–at the Winter Olympics, when NBC anchor Bob Costas missed several days on the job because of a severe case of pinkeye.

According to Calvin Bell, MD, medical director for Memorial ExpressCare and physician with Mid-America Emergency Physicians, pinkeye is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the clear tissue over the white part of the eyeball and lining of the eyelids. This inflammation makes blood vessels more visible, which reddens–or “pink”ens–the eye.

A number of things can cause conjunctivitis: viruses, bacteria, allergies and chemicals, such as shampoo, dirt, smoke or chlorine from swimming pools. The most common form of conjunctivitis is caused by a virus. However, the really gross kind of pinkeye we remember as kids, the one that took Costas out of his usual Olympic chair, is bacterial.

“Pinkeye caused by bacteria manifests severe redness, irritation, eyelid swelling and a thick pus-like drainage from the eyes,” Dr. Bell said. “The eyes often are matted shut first thing in the morning.”

If you have pinkeye, you can help prevent spreading it to others or reinfecting yourself by following these steps:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water, especially after touching your eyes. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60-percent alcohol.
  • Do not use the same eye drop dispenser for infected and noninfected eyes—even for the same person.
  • Wash pillowcases, sheets, washcloths and towels in hot water and detergent; hands should be washed after handling such items.
  • Avoid sharing things like towels, blankets and pillowcases, make-up or contact lens containers.
  • Clean eyeglasses and cases, being careful not to contaminate items (like towels) that might be shared by other people.
  • Discard any eye care products used while you were infected.
  • Clean extended wear lenses as directed, and do not use contact lenses while infected.

All newborns and infants with pinkeye should be seen by a healthcare provider. Older children and adults should see the doctor if any of the following occur:

  • Conjunctivitis is accompanied by moderate to severe pain;
  • Vision problems, such as severe sensitivity to light or blurred vision that doesn’t resolve with wiping away mattering from the eye;
  • Intense redness in the eye(s);
  • The patient has a weakened immune system from HIV infection, cancer treatment, or other medical conditions or treatments;
  • The patient’s conjunctivitis is being treated and does not begin to improve after 24 hours of treatment;
  • Or the patient wears contact lenses and develops conjunctivitis.