The conjunctiva plays an important role in keeping our eyes lubricated. But factors like infections, allergens or irritants, may make it inflamed and red. And when this occurs, the condition is known as pink eye or conjunctivitis. In most cases, the condition stems from bacterial or viral infection. A viral or bacterial conjunctivitis is highly contagious and can easily spread via direct contact, or by sharing contaminated items. Pink eye caused by allergens or irritants, on the other hand, is not contagious.
Conjunctivitis Incubation Period
In medical science, when the body is exposed to any disease-causing organisms, symptoms may occur shortly within minutes or they may take several years to emerge. So the time between the exposure and the beginning of the first symptoms is known as the incubation period.
For a pink eye that has been caused by a viral infection, the incubation period is generally 1-12 hours.
If the pinky eye is bacterial, then the incubation period can range from 1-3 days.
In some people, STD like chlamydia or gonorrhoea may also trigger pink eye. In such cases, the incubation period generally ranges from 3 days to several weeks.
Contagiousness of Pink Eye
In most cases, conjunctivitis, whether viral or bacterial, cannot be transmitted from one person to another while it is still in its incubation period. A person can spread the infection right from the time the symptoms appear.
A person with viral pink eye may remain contagious up to 14 days or until the symptoms last. The contagious period for a bacterial pink eye depends on whether antibiotics have been administered or not. If they have, then the infection may be contagious until 24 hours. And if not, then the same might extend.
Conjunctivitis can affect one or both your eyes. Even if the infection begins in one eye, it is most likely that it will affect the other eye as well.
The early symptoms of conjunctivitis are irritation and itchiness in the infected eye.
Gradually, the white of the infected eye may become pink or red; this occurs due to the inflammation of the conjunctiva.
The eyelids may become red and swollen, accompanied by increased tearing.
You may have the sensation of having some grain-like substances under your eyelids when you close your eyes.
Your eyes may burn almost all the time, and you may develop increased sensitivity to light.
You may experience a stinging pain in your eyes if you expose them to wind or cold air.
Discharge from the eye is also a common symptom of conjunctivitis. Mostly, a viral conjunctivitis causes a watery discharge with less or no mucus at all. However, the same is thicker and more pus-like in case of a bacterial infection. Because of such discharge, one or both your eyes may be stuck together when you wake up the morning.
Conjunctivitis does not affect your vision in most cases.
Conjunctivitis is treated depending on what has caused it. For a bacterial infection, the first line of treatment is antibiotics which may be administered in the form of ointments or drops.
There is no treatment for viral conjunctivitis. The virus has to simply run its course before it resolves on its own. Although antibiotics are of no help in this case, they might be given if you are at risk of contracting a secondary bacterial infection.
Anti-allergy medication pill or eye drops are helpful in taking care of a pink eye caused by allergens. The treatment also involves avoiding exposure to any more allergens that may worsen the condition. Pink eye caused by irritant(s) can be treated by simply getting rid of the irritant from the eyes. However, medical help is required if the irritant is a harmful chemical substance such as acid.
Self Care Measures
To clean the eye discharge, gently wipe your eyes with a clean washcloth soaked in lukewarm saline water. Take care that you do not use the same cloth for both the eyes, in case only one eye has been infected.
Warm compresses or cold compresses can be used in order to relieve swelling and pain. Even here, you should not use the same compress for both the eyes.
Do not let tissues or wipes to sit around just anywhere after they have been used; dispose them in the trash bin.
Most importantly, wash your hands after touching your eyes.
People are also advised not to go to work or send their kids to school when they are suffering from conjunctivitis. This is to minimize the risk of spreading the infection to others. Wearing sunglasses until the infection has healed completely, also helps in preventing the infection from spreading.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.