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Alleries and Bacteria: The Causes of Conjunctivitis

written by: Pam Tews • edited by: lrohner • updated: 5/31/2011

Bacterial or allergic conjunctivitis can cause the eye to turn bright pink, giving rise to the nickname of "pinkeye." Although most often seen in younger school-age children, adults are also susceptible to this annoying condition.

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    Pink eye is the common term for conjunctivitis, a broad term used to describe inflammation or infection in the conjunctiva, the membrane lining of the eyelid. Although bacterial or allergic conjunctivitis are the two main types of the illness, conjunctivitis can be caused by exposure of the conjunctiva to bacteria or other irritants, exposure to other people with pinkeye or viruses.

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    Bacterial Conjunctivitis

    As the name implies, bacterial conjunctivitis is an infection caused by a bacteria in the membrane lining. Bacterial conjunctivitis due to common pyogenic (pus-producing) bacteria causes marked grittiness and irritation and a stringy, opaque, greyish or yellowish mucopurulent discharge that may cause the eyelids to stick together, especially after sleep. Severe crusting of the infected eye and the surrounding skin also indicates the presence of bacterial conjunctivitis. Staphylococci and streptococci, among others, are types of bacteria that commonly cause pink eye. Treatment for bacterial conjunctivitis often includes eye drops that contain antibiotics and applying a clean cloth soaked in warm water.

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    Allergic Conjuctivits

    Allergic conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the tissue lining the eyelids, orconjunctiva, due to a reaction from allergy-inducing substances such as pollen and dander. When your eyes are exposed to anything to which you are allergic, histamine is released and the blood vessels in the conjunctiva become swollen. Symptoms include red eyes, dilated vessels, intense itching or burning, puffy eyes, discharge and tearing. This type of conjunctivitis can be treated with eye drops and anti-histamines. In extreme cases, a mild steroid may be required.

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    Regardless of the form of conjunctivitis you or your child may have, it is best to seek medical assistance. Pink is very contagious, but it is both preventable and treatable. Tips for prevention of this condition include:

    • Do not touch or rub the infected eye(s).
    • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water, especially after touching your eye.
    • Wash any discharge from your eyes several times a day using a fresh cotton ball or paper towel. Afterwards, discard the cotton ball or paper towel and wash your hands with soap and warm water.
    • Wash your bed linens, pillowcases, and towels in hot water and detergent.
    • Avoid wearing eye makeup.
    • Don't share eye makeup with anyone.
    • Never wear another person's contact lenses.
    • Wear eyeglasses instead of contact lenses. Throw away disposable lenses or be sure to clean extended wear lenses and all eyewear cases.
    • Avoid sharing common articles such as unwashed towels and glasses.
    • Wash your hands after applying the eye drops or ointment to your eye or your child's eye.
    • Do not use eye drops in a non-infected eye that were used for an infected one.
    • If your child has bacterial or viral pinkeye, keep your child home from school or day care until he or she is no longer contagious.