Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Health Care and Pink Eye

A common illness among school children and kids in general is a symptom called “Pink Eye,” a very contagious form of eye malady that affects most children during the months when school is in session. One reason it spreads easily is due to the close contact with lots of classmates before the illness has been properly diagnosed. Because children typically have quite a bit of physical contact, not only with each other but with much of the items in the classroom, “pink eye” can move quickly from child to child.

“Pink eye,” or Conjunctivitis, is swelling (inflammation) or infection of the membrane lining the eyelids, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In more than half of all people who have conjunctivitis that is caused by bacteria, the infection goes away without treatment within two to five days. Antibiotic eye drops or ointment can speed up recovery, though. Adverse effects are rare. There are many causes of conjunctivitis. Viruses are the most common cause. Other causes include:

• Allergies (allergic conjunctivitis)
• Bacteria
• Certain diseases
• Chemical exposure
• Chlamydia
• Fungi
• Parasites (rarely)
• Use of contact lenses (especially extended-wear lenses)

A pink eye, along with itching, burning, stinging, irritation, pain, grittiness, crusting or light sensitivity, are all symptoms that provide clues about the type of conjunctivitis you could have, according to AllAboutVision.com. Contagious forms of pink eye are usually linked to bacterial or viral infections. Non-contagious pink eye can occur when eye irritants such as allergens, dust and smoke are in the environment. Coughing and sneezing can spread contagious pink eye by spraying tiny droplets from infected mucus into the air. Shared towels also can be infected, as well as table tops, counter spaces and bathrooms.

Pink eye can occur in adults, but most often affects young children through epidemics that spread rapidly in classrooms and day care centers. Particularly in these communal settings, you need to take extra precautions to prevent pink eye, such as frequent hand washing by adults and children. In fact, when pink eye symptoms are present, it's a good idea to keep a can of disinfectant spray handy and use it often. Because a reddish or pink eye can be a symptom of many different types of eye problems — some that can be quite serious — make sure you consult with your eye doctor. Much more information about conjunctivitis, and how to treat it, can be found at their site: http://www.allaboutvision.com/conditions/conjunctivitis.htm .

According to the NIH, treatment of conjunctivitis depends on the cause. Allergic conjunctivitis may respond to allergy treatment. It may disappear on its own when the allergen that caused it is removed. Cool compresses may help soothe allergic conjunctivitis. Antibiotic medication, usually eye drops, is effective for bacterial conjunctivitis. Viral conjunctivitis will disappear on its own. Many doctors give a prescription for a mild antibiotic eye drop for pink eye to prevent bacterial conjunctivitis. You can soothe the discomfort of viral or bacterial conjunctivitis by applying warm compresses (clean cloths soaked in warm water) to your closed eyes. The outcome is usually good with treatment. Re-infection within a household or school may occur if you don't follow preventive measures. Much more detail can be found at this site: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002005/ .

No one knows exactly how many kids get conjunctivitis each year but your doctor treats many who have it and can spot it pretty quickly, according to KidsHealth.org. The doctor also will ask you if your eyes have been red and itchy lately or if you have noticed any goopy stuff in your eyes. It's important to tell the doctor if you know anyone, like a relative or a friend, who has red and itchy eyes, too. Your doctor will know if you have conjunctivitis by looking carefully at your eyes to see if they are red and if any liquid is coming from them. The doctor will want to know that you can see OK and that nothing has gotten into your eye. Finally, your doctor may examine your ears to see if you have an ear infection caused by the same bacteria that can cause conjunctivitis. More information about symptoms can be found at this site: http://kidshealth.org/kid/ill_injure/sick/conjunctivitis.html

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), if you have conjunctivitis, you should see your health care provider if you have—

• Moderate to severe pain in your eye(s)
• Blurred vision or increased sensitivity to light
• Intense redness in the eye(s)
• A weakened immune system, for example, from HIV or cancer treatment
• Bacterial conjunctivitis that does not improve after 24 hours of antibiotic use
• Symptoms persist or get worse

Conjunctivitis in newborns can be caused by an infection, irritation, or a blocked tear duct. A newborn baby that has symptoms suggesting conjunctivitis should see their health care provider. When neonatal conjunctivitis is caused by sexually transmitted infections, like gonorrhea or chlamydia, it can be very serious. If you are pregnant and think you may have a sexually transmitted infection, visit your health care provider for testing and treatment. If you don’t know if you have a sexually transmitted infection but have recently given birth and your newborn shows signs of conjunctivitis, visit your child’s health care provider right away. Most hospitals are required by state law to put drops or ointment in a newborn's eyes to prevent conjunctivitis. For more details about “pink eye” from the CDC, visit http://www.cdc.gov/Features/Conjunctivitis/ .

According to AllAboutVision.com, most types of pink eye are not considered serious or threatening to eyesight, especially when appropriate treatment — when necessary — is given in a timely way. But when other causes have been ruled out, persistent conjunctivitis can signal a potentially serious underlying disease that often only your doctor can diagnose. Left untreated, certain types of bacterial conjunctivitis can scar the eye's surface. This may lead to permanent eye damage and vision loss. In extreme and rare cases of uncontrolled conjunctivitis, an eye might even need to be removed because of infection that spreads throughout the eye and its interior.

Always see your family physician or a medical professional when you think you may be experiencing symptoms of any eye disease, especially conjunctivitis. Treatment is easy, and the general prognosis in most cases is very good. Just be careful, and be smart about any problems that may give you cause for concern about catching or spreading “pink eye.” It’s always best to find the right answers quickly before too much time goes by, and more serious problems develop. Precaution is always a good measure, and washing your hands frequently is just a good habit to maintain.

Until next time.

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