What infections cause pink eye, what are infectious pink eye symptoms, and how are they treated?
Viral pink eye
The leading cause of a red, inflamed eye is virus infection. Adenoviruses are the type of virus that is most commonly responsible for the infection. Other viruses that can cause pink eye include herpes simplex virus (HSV), varicella-zoster virus (VZV), poxvirus (molluscum contagiosum, vaccinia), picornavirus (enterovirus 70, Coxsackie A24), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Viral pink eye symptoms are usually associated with more of a watery discharge that is not green or yellow in color. Viral pink eye is most common in late fall and early spring. Often, viral "cold-like" symptoms, such as sinus congestion and runny nose, are also present. The eyelids may be swollen. Sometimes looking at bright lights is painful.
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 and typically remains contagious for 10 to 12 days after the onset of symptoms. The symptoms of viral pink eye can last 1 to 2 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
Staphylococci and Streptococci, are types of bacteria that commonly cause pink eye. Gonococci and chlamydia may also cause bacterial pink eye. Symptoms of pink eye caused by bacteria occur rapidly and can include
- eye pain,
- a moderate to large amount of discharge, usually thick and yellow or greenish in color,
- swelling of the lymph nodes in front of the ears.
The discharge commonly accumulates after sleeping. Affected children may awaken most unhappy that their "eyes are stuck shut," requiring a warm washcloth applied to the eyes to remove the discharge. Bacterial pink eye is treated by repeated warm washcloths applied to the eyes (try applying these to your child's eye one eye at a time during a favorite video) and requires antibiotic eyedrops or ointment prescribed by the doctor.
|What does pink eye look like?|
Be careful not to use medication prescribed for someone else, or from an old infection, as these may be inappropriate for your current infection or may have been contaminated from other infections by accidentally touching the medicine bottle to infected areas. A safe, effective, and potentially less frightening method of putting drops into the eyes of children involves asking your child to lie down flat, with instructions to merely "close your eyes," and placing the recommended number of drops in the inner corner of the eye, next to the bridge of the nose, and letting them make a little "lake" there. When your child relaxes and opens the eyes, the medicine will flow gently into the infected mucous membranes without the need to "force open" the eyes.
When you feel that you or your child might have bacterial pink eye, it is very important to see your doctor immediately for several reasons. First, if the cause is a bacterial infection, an antibiotic will be needed to help the infection-fighting immune system to kill this infection. Secondly, if you are experiencing other symptoms such as a runny nose, cough, earache, etc., there is a good chance that these symptoms are caused by the same bacteria, and an oral antibiotic may also be needed to treat this infection along with the antibiotic drops or ointment for the eyes. Oral antibiotics are also required for some types of bacterial pink eye. Finally, your doctor will want to exclude the possibility that the infection has spread to areas where the symptoms may not yet be recognizable.
Chlamydia pink eye
Pink eye due to infection with chlamydia is an uncommon form of bacterial pink eye in the U.S., but it is very common in Africa and Middle Eastern countries. Chlamydia can cause pink eye in adults and neonates. It is a cause of pink eye in adolescents and adults that can be sexually transmitted. Chlamydia pink eye is typically treated with erythromycin (E-Mycin, Eryc, Ery-Tab, PCE, Pediazole, Ilosone) or oral tetracycline (Sumycin), except in children less than 8 years of age, because of possible discoloration of the teeth.