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Conjunctivitis, referred to as pink eye, is one of the most common eye afflictions. Pink eye is the inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin tissue that covers the whites of the eyes. Although it is transparent, the conjunctiva is actually filled with blood vessels that oxygenate the eye. The inflammation of these vessels is what causes the pink look of conjunctivitis.

There are multiple types of conjunctivitis that can manifest for different reasons. Viral conjunctivitis is the most common form of conjunctivitis. As the name suggests, a virus causes this form causing it to be highly contagious, as it is airborne. It’s characterized by a deep red color in the whites of the eyes and an excessive amount of water discharge. The infection starts in one eye and quickly spreads to the other. Viral conjunctivitis is typically associated with sneezing and coughing, as it is commonly found alongside the flu or common cold virus. There is no cure for viral infections, but the body can normally fight out the virus within a week’s time. Medicine can be administered to help fight the symptoms.

Bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria and is frequently associated with sinus, ear, or throat infections. This type of infection is characterized by a pus-like discharge from the eye and is spread almost solely by physical contact. Frequently one may wake up with their eyes sealed shut by discharge from the eye. Unlike viral infections, the body cannot fight these infections off easily. It is strongly suggested to visit a doctor if the symptoms of a bacterial infection appear. Oral antibiotics, eye drops, and topical creams are all used to fight off infection. Bacterial and viral cases are only contagious after symptoms are exhibited. Bacterial infections can last much longer than their viral counterparts. Left untreated, they can last for up to a month while slowly worsening over time. If antibiotics are received, the infection is usually relieved within a week.

The final common type of pink eye is caused by allergies. The symptoms of allergy conjunctivitis look similar to its viral counterpart. In this case however, eyelids and areas around the eyes are more swollen. There may be even more watery discharge or sensitivity to bright lights. It is also likely that both eyes are affected equally. It is not contagious. Allergy medicines can be taken to reduce the symptoms, but it is more helpful to take this type of medicine before the known allergy season. If no medication is taken, allergy conjunctivitis can last indefinitely. In any case of conjunctivitis, it is important to not wear contacts throughout the condition.

Although many people see their general practitioner when exhibiting these symptoms, it is probably better to see an optometrist or ophthalmologist as they can diagnose what specific infection you may have.