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Eye Health: Dreaded pink eye is contagious, but it’s also easy to treat – and even avoid

By Dr. Dawn Stratton
KyForward columnist

An eye with conjunctivitis (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

An eye with conjunctivitis (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

If you have children, there’s hardly anything more dreaded than hearing there’s a case of pink eye in their classroom. Pink eye is highly contagious and is most common in preschoolers, schoolchildren, students, teachers and daycare workers. However, pink eye is easily treated and can be avoided with some precautions.

Also called conjunctivitis, pink eye is an inflammation of the thin, clear covering of the white of the eye and the inside of the eyelids. There are three types of conjunctivitis: viral, bacterial, and allergic. Many doctors use the term “pink eye” when referring to viral conjunctivitis. It is caused by a virus, like the common cold, and usually clears up on its own in several days without medical treatment.

Symptoms of pink eye include:

• Pink appearance of the eyes. One or both eyes may be affected.
• Watery, itchy eyes
• Sensitivity to light

In most cases, pink eye runs its course over several days and then cures itself without medical treatment. You can also try some home treatments to relieve symptoms, such as applying a cold, wet washcloth over the eyes numerous times a day. Be sure not to share this washcloth because pink eye is very contagious.

Because pink eye is easily transmittable, here are simple preventive measures that can be taken:

• Cover your nose, mouth when coughing or sneezing; avoid rubbing or touching your eyes.
• NEVER share contact lenses.
• Wash your hands regularly, especially when at a school or other public places.
• Do not share personal items like washcloths, hand towels or tissues.
• Wear goggles when swimming to protect eyes from bacteria or other micro-organisms in the water that can cause conjunctivitis.

Although pink eye usually goes away on its own, your eye doctor will be able to tell you when it is safe for you or your child to mingle with others without the risk of spreading. This is usually about three to five days after diagnosis.


Dr. Dawn Stratton, O.D., is the founder of Stratton Eyes. She is a graduate of Illinois College of Optometry in Chicago and earned her Doctor of Optometry in 1994. Based in Lexington, Dr. Stratton is a member of American Optometric Association, the Kentucky Optometric Association, the National Association of Professional Women and the Fellowship of Christian Optometrists. She also provides eye exams for patients at the Hope Center, Room at the Inn and The Nest. Visit Stratton-Eyes.com for more information or call 859-245-2020 or email office@strattoneyes.com. You can also find the office on Facebook and on Twitter @StrattonEyes.

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