Parents dread the annual rounds of viruses and ailments that sweep through schools like wildfire. One of the most contagious and inconvenient issues is pink eye. It can’t ever clear up fast enough, and as soon as one kid is better, the next one gets it. The red, goopy eyes and endless itching are hard to witness and even harder to experience.
Also known as conjunctivitis, pink eye is far from life-threatening but is uncomfortable and highly contagious. It is spread easily through contact with an infected person who has touched their face. Because it is so easily spread, an infection requires halting your daily routine to avoid sharing germs. But we only have so many sick days to spare, so how long does pink eye last?
What Causes Pink Eye?
The short answer is that pink eye can last from 7 to 21 days. The long answer requires discussing the different causes of the infection. There are several different types of pink eye, the two most common being viral and bacterial.
- Viral: Viral pink eye is caused by viruses like the adenovirus or the herpes virus. This type of infection will clear up all on its own within one to two weeks.
- Bacterial: Bacterial pink eye is caused by bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococcus pneumoniae. Mild cases will clear up on their own within ten days. If you are prescribed antibiotics, the symptoms should begin to ease within 24 hours.
Pink eye is generally contagious as long as you have symptoms. Once your eyes feel normal, you don’t have to worry about being the office germ factory anymore.
How to Tell the Difference
Both types of conjunctivitis share the commonplace symptoms of itchy, red eyes with possible swelling, burning, and the dreaded goop. There are a few ways to tell the difference between the two infections. When in doubt, a doctor can always diagnose what kind of pink eye infection you have.
- Commonly starts in only one eye with the potential of spreading to the other
- Causes a watery discharge from the eye
- Often begins with a cold-like virus
- Can start in one or both eyes
- Causes thick discharge that can make your eyes stick shut
- Begins with an infection like an ear or respiratory infection
How to Treat It
You aren’t going to like this answer: most pink eye infections need to be left to heal on their own. Not much can be done for a mild infection, though the bacterial type can be treated with antibiotics if necessary. Unfortunately, antibiotics are no help with a viral infection, though in severe cases antiviral medications might help.
Pink eye treatments can help ease the symptoms and prevent further spread or reinfection.
- Use eye drops to alleviate the dry, burning feeling. Artificial tears help to lubricate the eye and wash out any irritants. DO NOT use Visine or other anti-redness drops. These will cause pain and further irritation in the infected eye.
- Apply a wet compress. Cold or warm—your choice, just not too hot, as that will irritate the eyes. Apply the wet cloth over the eyes and leave for a few minutes. Use a fresh cloth each time.
- Use a damp tissue or cotton pad to clean your eyes. Start at the inner corner and wash out toward the other corner. Use a fresh tissue or pad for each eye.
- Throw out or disinfect contact lenses and pause use until the symptoms clear.
- Throw away any eye makeup or applicators used right before and during the time of infection.
In the end, the best pink eye treatment is patience and good hygiene. Washing your hands regularly, not touching your face, and using a separate towel will help prevent spread or reinfection. Most pink eye infections will clear up within a few days. If you don’t seem to be improving or are getting worse, it is important to seek medical attention. See a professional immediately if you begin to experience severe eye pain, blurriness, and extreme sensitivity to light.
If you have health questions, reach out to our medical experts at BASS Urgent Care. Our professionals take your health seriously. We look forward to helping you and your family stay healthy. For more information give us a call at (925) 318-9822 today.