Debunking Myths About Pink Eye

July 2, 2020

Everyone has heard of it, but few people know what it actually is or what actually causes it. In our article this week, we are going to answer all your questions about pink eye, and hopefully debunk some of the things you’ve heard about pink eye that just aren’t true. 

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1. Myth: Only Kids Get Pink Eye 

Pink eye can actually affect anyone of any age. Kids are frequently infected because pink eye is commonly caused by hand-eye contact, and kids are more likely to rub their eyes and not wash their hands properly. Infectious conjunctivitis, like bacterial conjunctivitis, is easily spread in any environment in which people are in close proximity, like school or daycare. 

2. Myth: Visine® Treats Pink Eye 

Visine® does not treat pink eye. Visine may make your eye less red, but it doesn’t have any healing properties to treat the pink eye, and can actually be harmful in the long term. Long term, Visine can cause a rebound effect causing the redness to worsen. As well, symptoms of pink eye or red eye can be indicative of a more serious condition, so it is advised to seek the counsel of an optometrist before reaching for Visine®. 

3. Myth: Pink Eye Refers to One Condition, and Therefore There is Only One Treatment 

Many people think Polysporin® eye drops from the drugstore will cure any type of pink eye. This is not true! There are many types of pink eye, otherwise known as conjunctivitis. These three are the primary types of conjunctivitis: 

  • Bacterial Conjunctivitis: this is what most people usually think of when they hear “pink eye”. A pink swollen eye with yellow-green discharge that sticks your eyelids together. This type is most common in children and in those that work closely with kids. 
  • Viral Conjunctivitis: watery, itchy, swollen eyes. This type is more common in adults, and is caused by a viral infection, like the common cold. It can be spread by coughing and sneezing. 
  • Allergic Conjunctivitis: watery, burning, itchy eyes caused by pollen, dust, animal dander, and other allergens. These symptoms are often accompanied by stuffiness, a runny nose, and itchy palate. 
  • There are even more conditions that fall under the conjunctivitis umbrella; see your optometrist to ensure you receive the correct treatment plan. 

As well, each type requires a different treatment, which is why it is important to see your optometrist whenever you have red, irritated, or swollen eyes. Your eye doctor can identify which type of conjunctivitis you have, and advise on the best course of treatment. 

  • Bacterial: most cases will often resolve on their own within a week, but your eye doctor may prescribe an antibiotic eye drop to speed healing. It is also important to keep eyelids clean to reduce transmission. 
  • Viral: similarly, most cases are mild and will resolve on their own over a period of several days without medical intervention, but in severe cases an antiviral may be prescribed. Applying a cold washcloth to the eyes can relieve symptoms. 
  • Allergic: your optometrist can prescribe an antihistamine-mast cell stabilizer eye drop for symptom relief. They may also prescribe a topical steroid drop if you are experiencing significant inflammation. As well, it is important to avoid the allergens causing the reaction if possible, and use a cold compress to reduce symptoms further. 

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4. Myth: Red Eye = Pink Eye 

There are many types of eye irritation and inflammation that can cause “pinkness”. Pink eye is due to the inflammation of the thin clear covering over the white part of the eye and the inside of the eyelids, known as the conjunctiva. Red eye can occur from a number of things, including: 

  • Foreign body (like metal or organic material) in the cornea or the conjunctiva 
  • Infection 
  • Injury  
  • General irritation 
  • A broken blood vessel or a “bruise” on the eye, otherwise known as a subconjunctival hemorrhage  
  • Certain types of glaucoma 
  • Contact lens complications 
5. Myth: Your First Stop Should be the Emergency Room if You Have Pink Eye 

Seeing a red & watery eye can be cause for concern, but the emergency room is not the only place you can receive urgent care. Your optometrist is more than equipped to handle these situations, and should be your first stop for these concerns. You’ll get specialized treatment for your eye conditions, you will not have to sit in the ER for hours (as well, you will reduce emergency wait times for those who need non-ocular emergency care), and all emergency visits at your optometrist office are covered by Alberta Health Care — so it’s FREE!

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