Back to school: how to recognize pink eye

Photo courtesy of CooperVision.ca

Photo courtesy of CooperVision.ca

Summer break is coming to an end signaling the start of another school year. Your child will soon be immersed into the classroom sharing ideas, books, each other’s lunches and much more. One of the things that you definitely do not want your child to catch or to pass on to others is pink eye. Yes, pink eye!

What is pink eye, you might ask?

Pink eye is a highly contagious, viral infection that usually follows an upper respiratory infection. It can be spread by through direct contact with an infected individual. Similar to the flu, antibacterial medications are typically ineffective against a virus. Therefore, it typically takes a good two to three weeks for your body and eye to fight off the infection.

So how would your child feel if he or she were to develop a pink eye?

First and foremost, your child will complain about watering and irritation in one eye. He or she may experience a gritty, foreign-body like sensation. Some may feel feverish as well. One of the golden rules is that pink eye always starts in one eye and then goes on to involve the other eye.

So how do you tell if it’s pink eye?

One of the troubling things to an undiscriminating parent is how to distinguish a pink eye from a red eye due to a bacterial infection or allergies. Because these conditions can look quite similar, it is best to take your child to an optometrist for a definitive diagnosis. Better yet, keep your child healthy by eating right, getting adequate rest and washing or sanitizing his or her hands often.

~ Judy Tong, O.D., F.A.A.O.
California Optometric Association
http://www.coavision.org
http://www.eyehelp.org

 

 

The Low Down on Pink Eye

Just your luck, it’s Friday afternoon and you find that you or your loved one has a pink eye, it may be a little irritated or painful, and you are worried because the weekend is coming up.  Your optometrist’s office may be closing soon.  Should you call your optometrist, go to urgent care, or risk the weekend without seeing an eye doctor?

Photo Courtesy of Lone Primate on Flickr.com

Photo Courtesy of Lone Primate on Flickr.com

Pink eye is a term used to describe an irritated pink or red eye.  The medical term is conjunctivitis which is an inflammation of the thin tissue overlying the whites of the eyes.  However, there are a variety of eye conditions that can cause an eye to become pink or irritated, although conjunctivitis is the most common cause.  Conjunctivitis can often be categorized into 3 different categories:

Bacterial conjunctivitis – This form is caused by bacteria and can be transferred in a variety of ways ranging from airborne to direct contact on one’s fingertips.  Bacterial conjunctivitis can cause sticky, yellowish green discharge, occasionally resulting in the lids sticking shut in the mornings.  The eye may be pink, painful, and sensitive to light.  Usually only one eye is affected although the other eye can become infected by indirect contact.  It is contagious and is often treated with antibiotic eye drops.  Once you have been treated for 24 hours with antibiotics, you are no longer contagious.

If you are a contact lens wearer, an irritated, painful and pink eye is usually the result of a bacterial infection.  This needs to be treated right away because you may develop a corneal ulcer and risk permanent vision loss.

Viral conjunctivitis – Most instances of viral conjunctivitis will cause the eyes to appear red and glassy, and there may be a watery discharge.  It usually affects both eyes and may be accompanied by an upper respiratory infection.  The lymph nodes in front of the ears and along the neck may be tender and swollen.  These cases are highly contagious and cannot be treated with medication.  They will resolve on their own within 7 to 10 days.  Some may take as long as 3 weeks.  Until then, patients should avoid spreading it to others.  Some may find relief with cool compresses or artificial tears throughout the day.

Occasionally, an eye can become infected by the herpes simplex or herpes zoster virus.  Symptoms may include a pink eye, pain, decrease in vision, or blisters on one side of the face.  These patients need to be seen and treated immediately in order to prevent vision loss.

Allergic conjunctivitis – This form of pink eye is prevalent throughout the year, depending on a person’s allergies and the plants that are in bloom during that season.  Allergic conjunctivitis will typically cause itching, tearing, and sticky, thick and white discharge that affects both eyes.  Some may notice their symptoms are worse after being outdoors.  Many often complain of an itchy throat or runny nose.  Usually, oral allergy medications will alleviate the symptoms related to the eyes, but many require the additional use of topical allergy eye drops to relieve symptoms.

I have seen a number of patients on a Friday afternoon with complaints of a pink eye.  Many times, the symptoms are not severe enough to determine what form of conjunctivitis the patient has, which can make treatment a little trickier.  In those cases, we advise the patient to return for a follow-up visit to determine if the treatment was effective.

A good rule of thumb for whether or not you need to see an optometrist when you have a pink eye is that if you are experiencing pain, light sensitivity, are noticing reduced vision or wear contact lenses, then visit an eye doctor today.  Make sure you do not put on your contact lenses.  I often advise my patients to try seeing an eye doctor first, rather than visiting urgent care as they may not have all the tools required to adequately diagnose your eye condition.

So, keep your hands clean, don’t share towels and avoid touching your face and eyes!

– Cindy P. Wang, OD, FAAO

Anatomy of the Eye 101

Courtesy of DVIDSHUB on Flickr

Courtesy of DVIDSHUB on Flickr

As a teacher and a doctor, I talk about the eye on a daily basis to my optometry students and patients alike.  I often use examples that my optometry students and patients can relate to.  The eye is like a high definition video camera that captures images of the visual world in real time.  If any part of your eye, that is, your “human video camera,” is affected or broken you may experience varying degrees of blurry vision, discomfort, or other common symptoms.  If you seek professional evaluation by your optometrist at the first inkling that something is out of sync, he or she can “fix or repair” your eye and get you back on a healthy track.

So let’s talk about the eye from front to back.

To start, the eyelids and lashes are the first visible structures to the outside observer.  Not only are the eyelids and lashes beautiful, but they also serve to protect the eye.  The eyelids spread lubricating tears like that of a windshield wiper across the surface of the eye with just a single blink, and the lashes act like specialized antennae sensing the smallest incoming offending particles.

Next, the conjunctiva is known to us as the “white” part of the eye.  This too is visible to the outside observer.  There are times that the conjunctiva may get inflamed or infected which results in that unwanted “pink eye” or conjunctivitis.

Much respect and attention has been given to the 5-layer-thick cornea as the clear window of the eye.  This is the layer where contact lenses are applied to correct nearsightedness or farsightedness.  Many successful surgeries like LASIK and corneal transplants have been performed on this tissue.

The anterior chamber and the vitreous are two compartments that give form to the eye and serve as conduits for circulating important fluids from one part of the eye to another.

Courtesy of entirelysubjective on Flickr

Courtesy of entirelysubjective on Flickr

The color part of the eye is called the iris.  It comes in many different colors and hues including brown, hazel, green, blue, and even violet.  The purpose of the iris is to regulate the amount of light that enters the eye.  Like that of a camera shutter, the iris controls the size of the pupil thus preventing under or over exposure of the picture of the visual world that is being seen.

The crystalline lens sits right behind the iris.  And similar to a camera lens, the human lens helps focus the things we see.

The retina, optic nerve, and macula can all be found way back in the eye.  The retina is the nervous tissue of the eye and is made up of 10 important layers. It gathers nervous signals and funnels it to the optic nerve.  As the name implies, the optic nerve is the nervous cable that connects the eye to the sight center in the back of the brain.  The macula allows you to see the finest details in vision.

This sums up the crash course on the Anatomy of the Eye 101.  Next time you are at your friendly optometrist’s office, just imagine the different parts of your eye being systematically looked at.

~By Judy Tong, OD