October 21, 2018
Pinkeye Problems
Ask the Experts

Pinkeye Problems

by Berkeley Wellness  

Q: What was that horrible eye infection that Bob Costas had during the Olympics in Russia? How can I avoid it, and what should I do if I do get it?

A: The TV sportscaster had conjunctivitis—with “all-time perfect bad timing,” as he said. Also called pinkeye, this is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin membrane that lines the eyeball and inner eyelid. The conjunctiva becomes red and swollen; the eyelid may also swell. There may be discharge from the eye, light sensitivity and blurred vision, as well as a sandy or gritty sensation when blinking.

The condition is highly contagious if it is caused by bacteria or a virus, but not contagious if it’s due to allergies or irritants (such as pollen, cosmetics or sunscreen). Costas’s pinkeye, which spread from his left to his right eye, was reportedly viral in origin and caused him to miss nearly half the Olympics.

To prevent conjunctivitis, make it a habit to wash your hands frequently with soap and water. Try to avoid touching or rubbing your eyes, as this can easily transmit an infection. Don’t share towels, washcloths or eye makeup with others. If possible, refrain from shaking hands with anyone who appears to have an eye infection.

If you do get conjunctivitis, follow the same advice for prevention. Wash and wipe away any discharge to prevent spreading the infection to the other eye. Don’t use contact lenses or eye makeup. A warm, moist compress may be soothing—dip a clean cloth in warm water, wring it out and place over the eye for five minutes, rewetting it as it cools. Do this several times a day. For allergic conjunctivitis, cool compresses and over-the-counter antihistamines or prescription eyedrops may help.

Viral conjunctivitis usually clears up on its own in about a week, but allergic conjunctivitis can persist until the source is identified and eliminated. Bacterial conjunctivitis is more serious and may require medical treatment. You should seek medical care if the discharge is severe, if the redness worsens, if your eye is very painful or if your vision is blurred. If it’s a bacterial infection, antibiotic eye drops or ointment should clear it up.