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What Is Pink Eye?

Dr. Mark Fromer -- What is conjunctivitis? How do you get it? Is it contagious?

Pink eye], also called conjunctivitis, is redness and swelling of the conjunctiva, the mucous membrane that lines the eyelid and eye surface. The lining of the eye is usually clear. If irritation or infection occurs, the lining becomes red and swollen. These thin layers of tissue react to a wide range of bacteria, viruses, and allergy-provoking agents.

While viral pink eye may not require an antibiotic, those affected should see a doctor, as occasionally this form of pink eye can be associated with infection of the cornea (the clear portion of the front of the eyeball). This infection must be correctly detected and treated. Viral pink eye is highly contagious. The symptoms of viral pink eye can last one to two weeks. Symptoms are pronounced for the first three to five days after symptoms appear, with slow resolution over the following one to two weeks.

Bacterial pink eye is treated by antibiotic eye drops or ointment prescribed by the doctor.

Common symptoms of pink eye are: redness of the eyes; swollen red eyelids; tearing; foreign-body sensation; itching or burning feeling; mild light sensitivity; and discharge from the eye.

Most cases of pink eye are caused by, viruses or bacteria, dry eyes from lack of tears or exposure to wind and sun, chemicals, fumes, or smoke and allergies.

Viral and bacterial pink eye are contagious and spread very easily. Since most pink eye is caused by viruses for which there is usually no medical treatment, preventing its spread is important. Poor hand-washing is the main cause of the spread of pink eye. Sharing an object, such as a washcloth or towel, with a person who has pink eye can spread the infection. People with infectious pink eye should not go to school or day care, or go to work until symptoms improve.

Pink eye may be more serious if you have a condition that decreases your body's ability to fight infection, have vision in only in one eye, or wear contact lenses.

Remember, eye conditions often can be reversed if caught early.

Mark D. Fromer, M.D., board certified ophthalmologist in surgery and treatment of eye diseases, has the distinction of being the eye surgeon for the New York Rangers hockey team. Dr. Fromer specializes in laser vision correction procedures, lectures extensively throughout the U.S., and maintains a very active role in teaching advanced surgical techniques and laser vision correction surgery to fellow ophthalmologists. For more information on this and other forms of advanced vision care, visit Fromer Eye Centers.

© 2012 Dr. Mark Fromer

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