School children, teachers and day care workers are at a particularly high risk for contracting conjunctivitis, commonly called pink eye. The telltale symptom is red eye(s). Although conjunctivitis is a fairly common condition, it is important to be able to differentiate between viral and bacterial conjunctivitis as treatment depends on the type of conjunctivitis contracted.
Pink eye is most commonly caused by the same virus that causes the common cold. Viral conjunctivitis is very contagious and may be spread by contact, a cough or a sneeze. One or both eyes may be affected and symptoms include itchy, watery eyes. Typically pink eye caused by a virus runs its course over several days and, in most cases, no medical treatment is required or indicated. A home remedy of applying a wet washcloth to the eye several times a day can relive symptoms.
On the other hand, bacteria conjunctivitis, also contagious, is more commonly spread by direct contact with infected hands or items that have touched the eye. It may present in one eye and is often accompanied by a thick, yellow or greenish-yellow discharge in the corner of the eye. Individuals may spike a slight fever, experience minor changes in vision, be more sensitive to light and they may feel like there is sandpaper in the eye(s). Antibiotic eye drops are the main course of treatment.
Of course, occasionally it is difficult to tell the type of conjunctivitis you have by symptoms alone. See your health care provider if there is moderate to severe pain in your eye(s), blurred vision, an increase in sensitivity to light, pus like discharge, intense redness or if symptoms get worse or do not improve.
With literally hundreds of viruses out there, the goal for many school children is to protect themselves from becoming infected in the first place. One of the most common ways people catch colds, flu and pinkeye is by rubbing their eyes or nose after a virus has gotten on their hands.
Hand washing, hand washing and more hand washing are three simple steps to help defend against the spread of many illnesses. In addition, because little viruses can also become airborne with coughing and sneezing, people with a cough or a sneeze should be instructed to use a clean tissue to cough or sneeze into and then wash their hands.
While the first step in prevention is making sure to stop the contact spread of viruses by way of hygiene, the second step is to prevent infection through immunizations – including the flu vaccine. Everyone over the age of 6 months can get a flu shot and most children over the age of 2 can get the nasal spray version.
As the children head back to the books this fall, be sure to have them wash their hands, schedule a well visit with your primary care provider to receive recommended immunizations, eat a healthy balanced diet and get plenty of sleep. If someone catches a cold or contacts pink eye, stay home, rest and recover.
Dr. Zachery Warnock is board certified in family medicine. After medical school in Albany, New York, he completed residency at the Idaho State University Family Medicine Residency. He and his wife are the proud parents of three daughters and enjoy spending time together camping, hiking, and other outdoor activities. Dr. Warnock practices medicine at Intermountain Medical Clinic and is accepting new patients