Pinkeye — medically known as conjunctivitis — is an infection that causes inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin layer of tissue that lines both the whites of your eyes as well as the inner eyelid. The membrane, which is clear when healthy, becomes swollen and red, giving the eye the characteristic pink tinge. Although it’s uncomfortable, pinkeye is usually not serious and will clear up within a week to ten days.
Pinkeye is quite common, partly because it has a number of potential causes, and partly because it so easily spread. Viral or bacterial infections are the most common sources, but it can also be the result of allergies or irritation from chemical fumes, smoke, or other irritants.
Viral pinkeye often results from a respiratory virus called adenovirus, which may come with common cold and flu symptoms that affect the throat and upper respiratory tract. However, the herpes virus can also be to blame for a conjunctivitis infection. In either case, viral pinkeye simply has to run it’s course; it’s also highly contagious.
Like a viral infection, bacterial infections are easily transmitted from one person to another; they also occur more often in children than in adults. Some common bacteria that cause pinkeye include staph, cat-scratch disease, and influenza type b (Hib), but bacteria from STD’s such as gonorrhea or chlamydia may also be the source. Unlike viral infections, bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics.
Irritants such as foreign bodies (dust and other debris), pollution, or fumes can irritate the conjunctiva, especially if they eye isn’t rinsed quickly enough. With timely rinsing, this form of pinkeye often clears up within a few hours.
Those who suffer from allergies are probably familiar with the pinkeye that can come with a flare-up; the good news is that the pinkeye usually clears up once the exposure to the allergen is removed, or with allergy medication.