Pink eye, medically known as conjunctivitis, develops when the conjunctiva (a clear membrane that lines the eyelids and the white parts of the eyes) becomes infected or inflamed. The condition can be caused by both viral and bacterial infections, and it may also occur in infants who have a tear duct that has not completely opened. Symptoms of pink eye include redness, itching, and a gritty feeling in one or both eyes, and patients may experience tearing and a discharge from the eye. Most episodes of pink eye are caused by viruses, and both the bacterial and viral forms of this condition are contagious. Doctors are normally able to diagnose conjunctivitis by taking a health history and asking the patient questions about their symptoms. Sometimes, the patient may need to have an office visit so the doctor can examine the eyes, and taking a sample of any discharge from the eye can be helpful in confirming the diagnosis. Treatment for viral conjunctivitis consists of symptom management, and the illness may persist for up to three weeks. Antibiotic eye drops may be used in cases of bacterial conjunctivitis.
To prevent the spread of pink eye to others, doctors advise patients to practice healthy hygiene and cleaning practices. Some of the routine preventative recommendations are discussed below.
Wash Hands Thoroughly and Often
Patients who have pink eye in one of their eyes may be able to prevent spreading the infection to the other eye and to other individuals if they wash hands thoroughly and often. Currently, healthcare professionals recommend washing hands with water and soap for at least twenty to thirty seconds; both warm and cool water are equally effective. When washing their hands, patients should ensure they wash the palms, backs of the hands, fingernails, and in between each finger. Hands can be dried using an air dryer or a clean towel. Individuals should wash their hands before and after eating and after using the bathroom. Handwashing should also be performed both before and after the patient touches their infected eyes. If running water and soap are not available, using a hand sanitizer that is at least sixty percent alcohol is considered effective.
Don't Share Personal Hygiene Products
'Don't share personal hygiene products' is one of the most effective pieces of advice eye doctors give to patients with pink eye and other eye health concerns. In particular, patients should avoid using contact lenses that are not their own, and they should also not share any artificial tears, eye drops, or eye cosmetics with others. Mascara, eye shadow, and any other eye cosmetics used before an episode of conjunctivitis should be thrown out, and patients who use lash curlers need to disinfect them with alcohol or replace them. Out of an abundance of caution, patients should also avoid sharing towels, washcloths, and other personal care items. During infection with conjunctivitis, it may be helpful for the patient to store their towels, contacts, eye drops, and other personal eye health items in a separate location from the rest of the household.
Use Clean Towels Daily
Individuals with conjunctivitis should take steps to ensure they use clean towels daily. Re-using a towel that has been touched could spread the infection to the other eye. Clean hand towels should be placed by the bathroom and kitchen sinks each day for hand drying, and bath towels should be laundered daily. Clean washcloths should also be used each day. When washing used towels, it is advisable to wash them in hot water. All used towels should be washed separately from other laundry items; kitchen towels and bathroom towels should be washed in separate loads. Ideally, the patient's towels and washcloths should be washed separately from those of other household members who do not have conjunctivitis. Since laundering large quantities of towels regularly may take too much time, patients may wish to use paper towels where possible, and disposable face wipes may be a more convenient option than washcloths for patients who are ill.
Avoid Touching Face and Eyes With Hands
To contain their eye infection, it is especially important for pink eye patients to avoid touching their face and eyes with their hands. If the patient touches their face and eyes, they could prolong the infection or spread it to their other eye or to others. Wearing gloves at night (and perhaps during the day as well) can keep the patient from touching their eyes. Winter, latex, or rubber gloves are all fine for this purpose, and the patient can choose whichever type of glove is most convenient. If the patient does not wish to wear gloves, occupying their hands with activities like knitting or typing can reduce the tendency to touch their face as well. Above all, individuals with conjunctivitis should ensure they wash their hands or use hand sanitizer regularly; this will reduce the risk of additional infection if they do accidentally touch their face or eyes.
Change Pillowcases Often
Pink eye can cause a discharge from the eyes that may harden into a crust overnight. For this reason, patients should change their pillowcases often. Ideally, pillowcases should be changed at least every other night, and some pink eye patients may wish to change their pillowcases every night. To ensure enough clean pillowcases are available, it can be helpful to wash all the pillowcases the patient has available at the start of their illness. These can be washed together, and this will reduce the amount of laundry the patient needs to do over the course of their conjunctivitis infection. If the patient does not have a clean pillowcase for a night, turning the used pillowcase to the opposite side or turning it inside out may be beneficial. In addition, some individuals find placing a plastic bag over the top of the pillowcase can save time; a new plastic bag should be used for each night, and the used bag should be disposed of each morning.