Conjunctivitis is a very common and unpleasant condition, especially for people that use contact lenses. Children can be equally affected by this disease, as well as adults. People who have conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, can transmit the disease to their family or friends or anyone else they come in close contact with. While the infection is contagious, it can also be avoided.
The most common causes of conjunctivitis (pink eye) are bacterial, viral and allergenic. It can also be caused by chemicals, extended contact lens wear (especially wearing them overnight), foreign irritants in the eye (like a loose eyelash), indoor and outdoor air pollution from chemical vapors, fumes, smoke or dust particles.
It can be a challenge to diagnose the exact cause of a conjunctivitis infection, because some symptoms may be the same no matter the cause.
Preventing the spread of conjunctivitis
A person who is diagnosed with conjunctivitis has to use their own towels, pillows and cosmetic supplies if they want to avoid spreading the infection. So, the rules are simple. Even for those who do not have conjunctivitis, the following precautions should be taken to prevent the spreading or contracting of this eye disease:
- Do not share bathroom and face towels.
- Do not share a pillow or pillowcase.
- Do not share eyeliners, mascara and makeup brushes.
- Use your own lens container and never share it with any other person.
- Avoid touching your eyes and then touching some other person or vice versa.
- Avoid hugging or other face-to-face activities.
- Change your pillow cases and face towels after just a few uses.
- The infection can be passed through the nose and mouth, so wash your hands before taking any food.
Types of conjunctivitis
Conjunctivitis is basically an eye infection that can be easily contracted by another person. The usual bacterial suspects that can cause the infection are staphylococcus aureus, streptococcus pneumoniae, haemophilus species, or, less commonly, chlamydia trachomatis. This kind of conjunctivitis can be very contagious and is the leading cause of children being absent from daycare or school. It is more common in kids than adults. In bacterial conjunctivitis, the incubation period ranges from 24 to 72 hours. The most common ways of contraction are:
- Direct contact with infected person’s tears and other eye secrets, usually with hand-to-eye contact.
- Spreading the infection from person’s own bacteria that live in their nose, mouth or sinus.
- Poor hygiene of contact lenses and other supplies connected with eye care.
Viral conjunctivitis is caused by virus infections, and it can be easily contracted through the air. Thus, an infected person must avoid crowded places and events. It can be caused by a number of different viruses, such as adenoviruses, and is extremely contagious. Sometimes it can also result in large outbreaks depending on the type of virus. The incubation period is usually from 12 hours to 3 days. The rules for preventing the spread of this type of conjunctivitis are the same as those for bacterial infections: avoid hand-to-eye contact and use your own towels, pillows and cosmetics.
It is not easy to determine how long conjunctivitis is contagious for unless the source of the infection is known. People can pass the infection directly to one another through the air, but also through water such as in swimming pools. So while swimming, it is a good idea to wear a swim mask or goggles.
Allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious and affects only the allergic person. It is the result of the body's reaction to allergenic elements, such as pollen from trees, plants, grasses and weeds, dust mites, molds, dander from pets, medicines or cosmetics. This kind of conjunctivitis occurs more frequently among people with other allergic conditions, such as hay fever, asthma and eczema. It can also occur seasonally, when allergens such as pollen counts are high. It may also happen year-round due to indoor allergens, such as dust mites and animal dander. Some people can also contract allergic conjunctivitis from exposure to certain drugs and cosmetics. Even still, allergic conjunctivitis patients also have to follow the basic rules for protection. Keep in mind that a good personal hygiene effectively prevents the contraction.
The following measures can be taken to avoid spreading the infection and protect yourself from pink eye or any other sickness.
- Avoid touching or rubbing your infected eye. This can worsen the condition or spread it to your other eye.
- Wash the hands with antibacterial soap and warm water immediately after touching your or someone else’s eyes, and always keep an alcohol-based hand sanitizer in your bag or pocket.
- If you take care of someone who was diagnosed with pink eye, wear a new pair of latex gloves.
- Avoid swimming in pools if you are diagnosed with conjunctivitis because you can easily pass on the infection to someone else.
- Keep your eyes clean and do not let the discharge touch your nose or mouth.
- Avoid hugging and kissing.
- Wash your pillowcases, sheets, washcloths and towels in high water temperatures and detergent. Wash your hands after handling such items.
- Never share makeup or a makeup brush with any other person.
- Never wear someone else’s sunglasses or contact lenses.
- Clean your eyeglasses, being careful not to contaminate items (like hand towels) that might be shared by other people.
- Clean, store and replace your contact lenses as instructed by your eye doctor.
- Do not share eye drop bottles with anyone.
- Use different eye drop bottles for the infected and non-infected eye.
Taking preventative measures is always the best choice, but we don't always know when someone in our environment is infected. If you get pink eye, you should take a few days off of school or work or remain home until the redness and swelling are completely gone. Dust and cigarette smoke can worsen the symptoms, so it is better for you to stay at home for a few days and to avoid contact even with your family members. The viral and bacterial forms of conjunctivitis can be very easily transmitted from one person to another with just casual, everyday contact like hugging, kissing and other types of face-to-face contact. The infection is very contagious in the first seven days and may last a couple of weeks.