Pink Eye — Yikes!

Posted on Friday, March 18th, 2016 by Dr. Binoy Jani

Ophthalmologist Culpeper

If you have school-age children, or are around school-age children a lot, you know that they’re not always kind to their eyes. Maybe they rub their eyes a lot, or they don’t wash their hands consistently, or they just wanted to try on someone else’s glasses. It doesn’t help that most schools are their own ecosystem for germs, and everything gets passed around. Pink eye is one of those things.

What is pink eye? We see it a lot and everyone seems to be familiar with it, but nobody seems to know. It’s an inflammation (swelling) of the thin covering over the whites of your eyes, and because there are blood vessels in it, those swell as well, causing the pink. Basically, your eye swells up and looks pretty unpleasant.

There are three types of pink eye: viral, bacterial, and allergic, though traditionally, doctors will only call the viral type pink eye. Viral is typically the one most schools worry about, because that’s the only one that’s contagious. It will clear up by itself, but it’s important to keep the afflicted person out of school and around other people so that it doesn’t spread. Bacterial pinkeye on the other hand is probably the more dangerous type to have, as it’s more severe. It’s not as contagious as viral pinkeye, but it definitely requires medication. People with bacterial pinkeye have reported not being able to open their eyes, because their eyelids are stuck to each other. That’s pretty scary. The last one, allergic pinkeye, is the most common, but it’s not contagious at all. It’s exactly as it sounds, actually. People with allergies to dust/dander/pollen often tend to rub their eyes because they’re itchy, which causes the eye to swell up. It can’t be caught from anything or anyone, and it often goes away within the space of a day.

In a school, though, it’s best to assume that anyone rubbing their eyes could be at risk for the first two types of pinkeye, and send them to the nurse’s office. Therefore, even someone who only experiences allergic pinkeye might be asked to go home just in case. This can be very annoying, especially in prime allergy season. While there’s no preventative medicine for viral or bacterial pink eye, allergy sufferers can take medication to reduce their reaction to dust, dander, and pollen.

The best way to prevent pink eye is to talk to school-age children about the importance of washing their hands, covering up their coughs and sneezes, and how sharing isn’t always caring. It may seem obvious to adults, but children need the extra instruction to know how to cut down the pink eye epidemic.