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Conjunctivitis, known colloquially as “pink eye,” is an infection of the eye or eyes that can lead to redness, itching, irritation, and a characteristic creamy discharge in many cases. For the most part, this infection is merely irritating, not threatening, although a medical professional should be seen to confirm the diagnosis. In some cases, he or she may offer prescription medication to help clear up the illness. Avoiding contracting it in the first place, of course, is preferable.
Pink eye starts with an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the clear membrane that covers the white of the eye and part of the eyelid. As the conjunctiva becomes more inflamed and irritated, it starts to get infected, causing the veins in the eye to turn red and irritated. If the infection is allowed to continue, the eye may start to produce a discharge, and it can become very uncomfortable.
There are several potential causes for this infection, including several bacterias and viruses. In this case, the condition is infectious, so the patient should be careful about touching the eye and interacting with other people. When it's caused by bacteria, a medical professional may prescribe an antibiotic to treat the problem. Foreign bodies in the eye can also cause itchy eyes and irritation, and some allergies can manifest themselves as pink eye as well. Removing the foreign body and figuring out the cause of the allergy are important in these cases.
Pink eye is a very common condition, especially in children, but there are a few steps that can be taken to help avoid it. The first is for individuals to make sure that they always wash their hands before touching their eyes and face, and to do the same after touching other people. Keeping the face and eyes clean is also important, as is avoiding allergens that have been known to cause eye problems in the past. These basic steps are also good for health and hygiene in general.
In addition, people should avoid sharing things like washcloths and eye cups, which may carry traces of infectious material. Any materials used to wipe the face and eyes, such as cotton makeup swabs, should also be securely discarded and not reused, if they are disposable, or washed before the next use in the case of reusable items. Labeling or color coding things like washcloths can help people distinguish between their belongings in a large household.