Q: I have heard many suggestions about the proper thing to do when you or your child develops “pink eye”. How contagious is it really, and what should we do?
A: This is such a misunderstood condition that even the name “pink eye” is confusing to most people. As eye physicians, we actually consider “pink eye” to be a virus-induced infection of the eye. Generally, viral infections of the eye are fairly common, and far outnumber eye infections caused by any bacteria. This is very much like the common cold, or the flu, and why antibiotics actually do no good to cure such problems.
As we all by now, viruses can be very contagious! Eye viruses are transmitted by touch…not through the air. Commonly others catch the viral infection by shaking hands with a patient who recently rubbed their eye, or by sharing a hand towel at home. Fortunately, we do have a simple and painless in-office test that can tell us if a particular patient’s “pink eye” is the highly contagious type, or less so. With a tiny sample of your tears, we can identify this in 10 minutes.
Treatments are also much better now. You have likely heard all sorts of remedies, but we now have two new techniques to cure viral “pink eye” quickly. This is critical especially because untreated viral eye infections, can take two weeks to run their natural course….and can leave permanent scarring in the cornea. Correct treatment can clear the eye/s in a day or two and allow the patient to return to work or school safely.
Both treatments are still a considered “off label”….meaning we utilize medications that were first intended for another disease or a different problem. In the office we can eradicate the active virus on the eye and under the lids with a strong ophthalmic antiseptic solution. This method typically allows the patient to return to normal activities in two days, instead of two weeks! The other technique is prescribing a medication first indicated for the herpes virus, but it turns out that it is also highly effective on these very contagious “pink eye” infections. Our experience has been that our patients using this eye drop medicine are clear and comfortable in 3-4 days.
In conclusion, we advise people that if you have a red or pink eye, you could try a topical eye lubricant or eye rinse the first day. But if the appearance is still there, or worsened, on day two you need to see your eye doctor. And I do mean your eye doctor….where we have the eye microscopes to examine your eyes accurately, and where we keep the topical eye antiseptics for treatment. A special warning: if you have any change in your vision in the affected eye/s or any real pain in the eye/s, call your eye doctor immediately. In those cases, delay can result in vision loss or permanent scarring of the cornea.