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Frequently Asked Questions

Red Eye (or Pink Eye)

Pink Eye
The eye turns usually turns pink because of conjunctivitis, an inflammation of the thin, normally transparent cellophane-like membrane lining the eye and the eyelids. Occasionally, internal eye problems may cause a pink eye.

What causes conjunctivitis?
Viruses, bacteria, allergies and chemicals are common causes of conjunctivitis. Sometimes, it may be difficult to determine precisely which of these factors is involved.

Viral conjunctivitis.
Usually it starts suddenly with redness, watering, and excessive sensitivity to light. Many different viruses are responsible. Some are highly contagious for up to two weeks. They often spread by finger-to-eye contact. Frequent hand washing reduces the likelihood of infection. To prevent transmission to other members of the household, do not use the same towel or pillow. There is no good treatment for viral conjunctivitis.

Bacterial conjunctivitis.
Usually it starts suddenly with redness and a feeling of grittiness and burning. There is a pus-like discharge and, on waking, the lids may be stuck together and be difficult to open. Increased sensitivity to light may be present in more severe cases. Vision is not affected. Treatment consists of antibiotic drops during the day and, sometimes, antibiotic ointment at night. Before applying antibiotics, crusts and discharge should be washed away with the help of warm compresses (see "How To"). It is prudent to use antibiotics in both eyes, even though one of them does not appear involved by the infection, as yet. To prevent transmission to other members of the household do not use the same towel or pillow. Bacterial conjunctivitis usually resolves within 2 weeks.

Allergic conjunctivitis.
See "Allergy".

Chemical conjunctivitis.
In case of a chemical splash wash the eye for 15 min with tap water, then arrange to be seen immediately at our office, or at the Kresge Eye Institute (313-577-8900).

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