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The Eyes Have It: Three Real Causes of Pink Eye, and the Mythic Pink Eye that Never Was but is Always Feared

By Dr. Arthur Lavin

Every winter we see lots of pink eye, from viruses.

Every summer we see lots of pink eye, from allergies.

From time to time we see pink eye, from bacteria.

But we have never seen a type of pink eye invented by schools, that never existed, and is the most feared.

What is Pink Eye?

Pink eye simply means the white of the eye is not so white anymore, and is now bloodshot or red-streaked.

For all types of pink eye, the eye is usually uncomfortable, usually either itchy or burning.

And, for all types, there is usually some discharge, mucus, crusts, and/or pus.

What are the 3 Real Types of Pink Eye?

Viral, Allergic, or Bacterial

VIRAL

Viral pink eye is a cold in the eye.  It really is just that.  Just like colds in the nose make the lining of the nose reddish, and weepy with mucus, and uncomfortable, so do colds in the eye make the eye reddish, weepy with tears and mucus, and uncomfortable- usually burning.

Just like in the nose, overnight the mucus accumulates and forms crusts that can block the area.

In the nose that dried overnight mucus is called boogers (to use the technical term).

In the eyes that dried overnight mucus is called crusts, and there can be a lot of it, matting the eyes shut and making them swollen in the morning.

There is no treatment for viral pink eye, it is a cold, so antibiotics don’t do anything.  No drops help.

The viral pink eye is contagious, but not very, it is not only like a cold, it is a cold, so it spreads, but not wildly.  Most sibs and parents won’t catch it, but can.

Allergic

With the trees in bloom many children with allergies are getting allergic pink eye, which again is just like allergies in the nose.  It causes an itchy swelling with crusts.  It makes the eyes, like the nose, itchy, and red.

There is no infection with allergic pink eye, so it is not contagious.

Antibiotics don’t help here, but antihistamines do, as oral or eyedrop form.

Bacterial

Bacterial pink eye is the least common of the three, and can complicate either viral or allergic.

We think the pink eye is bacterial if there is lots of pus rolling out of the eye, even after your child has been awake for awhile and the night’s crusts have been cleared.

This is the only form that antibiotic eye drops help.

It is contagious, but less so than viral.

That should be the complete discussion on pink eye, but there is one form, it doesn’t really exist, but since schools talk about it so much we should, too.

The Mythic Pink Eye

The most important thing to say about mythic pink eye is that it does not exist.

But here is the myth:

Mythic pink eye is a very dangerous condition in the eye.

It can cause damage to the eye very rapidly.

It is wildly contagious and spreads like wildfire.

When it appears, actions must be taken urgently and immediately, or whole classrooms can have their eyes damaged.

Once it is seen, the child with mythic pink eye must leave school immediately, the whole building is at grave risk.

We know about the stories of this mythic pink eye, because most parents have gotten the urgent call from school when they think their child has it.

But relax, this scary story is never true.  We are always happy to talk with you or see your child and see which of the three real pink eyes it really is.

BOTTOM LINES

  1. Pink eye is as common as colds and as allergies, because the two main forms of it are colds and allergies:  viral and allergic pink eye, respectively.  Each are treated just as the underlying cold or allergy requires.
  2. Unusually, bacteria get into a viral or allergic pink eye and ramp up the pus production.  This form is safe too, and only needs some antibiotic drops to go away.
  3. The evil and scary mythic pink eye is the favorite boogey-man of the eyes for all schools, thankfully it does not exist.

 

To your health,
Dr. Arthur Lavin

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