One infection that’s common during cold and flu season may surprise you: conjunctivitis, often called pink eye. This inflammation of the conjunctiva — the tissue that lines the inside of the eyelid and helps keep the eyelid and eyeball moist — can be caused by a virus, bacteria, allergens or irritants.
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One of the reasons pink eye is seen more often in winter is because it can be passed around like a cold, ophthalmologist Rishi Singh, MD, says. And the advice to avoid pink eye is the same as for avoiding colds: wash your hands frequently.
“Conjunctivitis is incredibly common this time of year,” Dr. Singh says. “And its spread occurs through contact, so remember those public places like door knobs and elevator buttons and those not-so-public places like airplanes and pillows from hotel rooms that can harbor the virus.”
Conjunctivitis often spreads to the other eye by contact. So if you have conjunctivitis, be sure to wash your hands frequently with soap or hand sanitizers and avoid touching your eyes, Dr. Singh says.
Symptoms of conjunctivitis include redness, discharge from the eye, watery eyes and possibly pain. The infection can last from 10 days to two weeks.
See your ophthalmologist — a doctor trained to treat eye conditions — or your family doctor if you have any of these persistent symptoms. A number of treatment options are available, depending on the cause and severity, Dr. Singh says.
“The treatment is based on the severity,” Dr. Singh says. “In mild or moderate cases, we recommend supportive measures like cold compresses and preservative-free artificial tears. In severe cases, a prescription for a steroid or anti-inflammatory eye drop can be helpful.”
Parents of a child with bacterial or viral conjunctivitis should keep the child home from school or day care until the danger of being contagious is over.
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