PINK EYE: Unmistakable, Unwanted and Usually Harmless

PINK EYE: Unmistakable, Unwanted and Usually Harmless

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PINK EYE: Unmistakable, Unwanted and Usually Harmless.  Conjunctivitis, better known as pink eye, is a common eye infection involving inflammation of the conjunctiva. That is the thin clear tissue covering the outer white portion of the eye and lining the inside eyelid. Conjunctivitis can be highly contagious but is rarely serious and unlikely to damage vision. With appropriate care, it clears up with no long-term problems. Mild pink eye is almost always harmless and will disappear even without treatment.

Treatment of pink eye
depends on the cause.


Common causes are similar in Costa Rica and elsewhere: viruses (including those that cause the common cold), bacteria, irritants (such as shampoos, dirt, smoke, pool chlorine and contact lenses), reaction to eye drops and allergic reactions to pollen, dust, or smoke.

Depending on the cause of inflammation, pink eye symptoms may include:

Redness in the white of the eye or inner eyelid

More tearing than usual

A yellow or green discharge that crusts over the eyelashes, especially after sleep

Clear or white discharge

Itching and/or burning 

Blurred vision and/or sensitivity to light

Medical attention should be sought immediately if there is pain or vision-related issues, or if mild symptoms persist after a week.

Treatment of pink eye depends on the cause, as follows.

Viruses: Pink eye caused by cold-like viruses can be very contagious, so do everything to prevent spreading. Symptoms normally last four to seven days. As with any viral infection, antibiotics have no benefit.

Bacteria: Antibiotic treatment in the form of eye drops or ointments may be used.

Irritants: Apply cool water for five minutes to wash the substance from the eye. Symptoms should begin to improve within a few hours. If conjunctivitis was caused by an acid or alkaline agent such as bleach, immediately rinse the eyes with lots of water and seek medical attention right away.

Allergies: Avoid the trigger allergen. Antihistamine drops can give some relief.

For general treatment of pink eye, wash your hands often with soap and warm water, especially before eating. Keep your eyes clean by washing away any discharge several times a day. Use tissues, and not fingers, to avoid skin contact.

Wash or change pillowcases every day until the infection goes away. Bed linens and towels should be laundered in hot water and detergent. Keep personal towels, washcloths, and pillows separate from linens used by other people to prevent cross contamination.

Do not put a patch over the affected eye(s) as it may worsen the infection.

Non-prescription “artificial tears” may have some preventive benefit by easing the itching and burning from pink eye causing irritants. However, do not use other types of eye drops — including those promoted for treating eye redness — because they may irritate the eyes instead.

Although pink eye caused by some bacteria and viruses can spread easily from person to person, it is seldom a serious health risk if diagnosed promptly. It can spread in areas where people live, work and play closely together. If you share a computer or other equipment with others, make sure to wash hands and keep from touching your face.