As children are hard at work learning at school, viruses and bacteria are also hard at work, spreading from one child to another. One of the most contagious ailments is pink eye. Though not life-threatening, the sticky infection is a hassle for parents, teachers and students.
“This common medical condition is around all year,” said Khalilah Babino, DO, an Immediate Care physician at Loyola University Health System in Maywood, Ill. "Since it can spread so easily it’s more common when school is back is session and kids are in close contact and touching similar surfaces."
Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is when the conjunctiva, a very thin membrane that lines the inner surface of the eyelids and white portion of the eye, gets inflamed and causes the lining to become red and swollen.
“Contrary to popular belief, pink eye is not always due to a bacterial infection. It can also be caused by viruses, allergens and irritants. These types of conjunctivitis will typically resolve spontaneously without additional treatment,” Babino said.
Still, bacteria can be the cause of the infection. Bacterial conjunctivitis is extremely contagious and can quickly spread through a household or classroom. It typically causes eye redness, irritation, pain and/or thick, discolored drainage initially in one eye. It’s common for a person’s eyelids to be “stuck” shut upon awakening due to drainage.
"Bacterial conjunctivitis can be the result of infection from one of several bacterial organisms. Transmission is from person-to-person contact, secretions from an affected person or infected surfaces. If you suspect you have this type of infection, it’s best to see your medical provider as soon as possible,” Babino said.
Babino gives the following tips for dealing with bacterial pink eye:
- Wash your hands frequently for at least 15-20 seconds with warm soapy water.
- Use alcohol sanitizer when water and soap are not available to clean your hands.
- Avoid eye makeup during an infection and discard any open eye makeup as it is likely contaminated.
- Remove contact lenses and wear glasses until the infection is cleared.
- Thoroughly clean your contact lens case and discard disposable contacts.
- Avoid touching your eyes with your fingers. Conjunctivitis is commonly transmitted from one eye to the other this way.
- Avoid school and/or work until you have had at least 24 hours of antibiotic treatment.