Pink Eye Panic

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Allergic conjunctivitis

Q: My eyes were gooped up this morning and my roommate is freaking out.  Do I need antibiotic drops?

A:  Not necessarily.  It is common for us to wake up with some crustiness in the corner of our eyes. This is primarily caused by our tears drying on our eye lids overnight.  However, crustiness associated with any of the following symptoms should prompt you to seek medical attention as soon as possible:

  • Eyes that are stuck shut in the morning
  • Eyes that are red, irritated and watery
  • Burning sensation
  • Vision changes
  • Sensitivity to bright lights.

I know that just saying the words “pink eye” is enough to send people screaming down the street while spraying antibacterial lotion at you over their shoulder, but it’s important to remember that not all goopy eyes are infected.  Take a look at the photos to the right.  One is “pink eye” caused by a viral infection and the other is caused by allergies.  Can you tell which one is which?  (Answers below)

Allergies, dry eyes and other irritants can cause the same symptoms and they are treated differently.  And the “pink eye” kind of eye infection that spreads like wildfire through daycares is much less common in adults.  You should obviously avoid touching your eyes, wash your hands frequently and come in to get checked out, but you don’t need to be in quarantine.

A great way to prevent bacterial build-up on the eyelids and prevent infection is to wash your eyelids and eyelashes regularly by performing a “lid scrub.” With your eyes closed, rub gently along the eyelashes for about 30 seconds with a soft wash cloth moistened with warm water and diluted baby shampoo.  You can also use a specifically formulated eyelid scrub that can be found over-the-counter (Sterilid and Ocusoft are two brands we recommend).  If you wear contact lenses, be sure to take them out beforehand. 

Performing these lid scrubs once a day – along with wearing sunglasses – will help you maintain healthy eyelids and keep you seeing straight for years to come!

Nazreen Esack, OSU College of Optometry

Julia Geldis, OD (OSU SHS)

photo 1: virus infection          photo 2: allergies

photos: UpToDate.com

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