Conjunctivitis: Is Pinkeye Dangerous?

Most people have experienced eye redness and irritation at least once: the condition is widespread, and it is not something to lose sleep over. However, one should know about its etiology, symptoms and possible treatments. This information may be even more important now that a medication-resistant pinkeye-causing strain has appeared.

Image Credit: istockphoto.com / has2006

What is conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis is a condition which affects eyes–either one of them or both. Another name for it is pinkeye. It occurs when the conjunctive, or the outermost layer of the eye, becomes inflamed. The tissue that constitutes the layer also lines the side of the eyelid which is in contact with the eye. It is a common health problem which is usually considered minor, as it does not usually lead to complications and can even resolve on its own.

How is it treated?

In most cases, pinkeye resolves in 2 to 5 days without any treatment – the immune system is capable of eliminating all viruses and bacteria causing it itself.

If treatment is required, i.e. if no sings of improving are visible after three days, conjunctivitis management is carried out depending on what its cause is.

If it is allergy, pouring cold water over the eyes could help. Other means of management are use of antihistamines or other medications designed to reduce inflammation.

If it is viral, no treatment is used, because there are no anti-viral medications of this kind that could be effective in such cases. Antihistamines are sometimes used to manage symptoms, but they do not affect the underlying cause.

If it is caused by bacteria, topical antibiotics may be considered. However, as the condition is not associated with dangerous complications, there is no major difference between the outcomes in those who use topical antibiotics and those who do not. It’s just that they can speed up healing. Povidone-iodine is also reported to be quite effective, and it can be applied to eye areas where antibiotics are unavailable.

Resistant strains

However, some strains behind pinkeye are resistant to commonly used medicines. It has recently been reported that in Texas some patients have conjunctivitis that does not respond to standardized treatment. It may sound scary–are we facing a germ we have always dreaded and depicted in movies?–it is not that dangerous after all. The key difference between the unusually resistant strain and common strains is the duration of the condition: instead of having itchy and reddish eyes for 10 to 14 days, you can have it for several more days, so the total duration makes up around 2 to 3 weeks. Besides, the itching and redness may be more intense. Other than that, there is nothing that makes it special. No zombie alarm.

Prevention

Prevention of conjunctivitis boils down to washing your hands properly and not touching your eyes when there is no need for it, especially if you are outdoors. Conjunctivitis is extremely contagious, and it is nearly impossible to prevent catching the bug once your eyes have been exposed to it, no matter how hard you try to wash hands regularly. Still, maintaining hygiene is recommended, as it can lower the risk of having pinkeye.

There is evidence suggesting that several vaccines can keep some of the bacterial and viral diseases associated with the condition in question at bay. Among them are the following:

  • Pneumococcal
  • Shingles
  • Chickenpox
  • Rubella
  • Measles
  • Hib

Allergy- and irritant-induced conjunctivitis is not contagious, so only elimination and avoidance of the substances causing the problem is the usually recommended way out.

 

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