Eye infections are very common, and very important to treat correctly.
When an infection starts on the outer surface of the eye, the conjunctiva, or thin membrane that covers it, becomes inflamed. As with any inflammation in medicine, we append the suffix “itis” to make it into conjunctivitis, otherwise known as “Pink-Eye”.
Considering the thousands of particles of dust laden with bacteria we have bombarding our bodies every day, one might wonder how the eye avoids constant infections. The answer lies in its brilliant design:
- Lids to close out sudden gusts of particles, form sand storms to sneezes, and lightning fast reflexes to operate them
- tears to flush water under these lids to drain through the lacrimal ducts into the nasal passages
- enzymes in the tears to destroy any invading organisms (which is why contact lens wearers can pop out a lens in an emergency, flush it under tap water or even lick it, then reinsert without getting infected).
However, these defense mechanisms can still be overcome, and the result will be crust or pus forming between the lids, and a characteristic redness of what is supposed to be the “whites” of the eyes.
Parents know that this condition is an absolute reason to quarantine their child away from classmates or day care peers. But it can also occur in adults just as easily.
Once this yellowish material forms in your eye, it is very important to see a doctor. While the diagnosis is pretty obvious from the history and findings, there are some important steps for follow-up to consider:
- Pink-eye is extremely contagious. Simply by rubbing the infected eye, one transfers the germs onto the hand.
- When that same hand later touches the other eye, the infection can now start there. If that hand touches a door knob, then the next person touching that surface can get it too. Schools and day care centers are quite right to keep pink-eye cases out of contact with the rest of the kids. If you do catch yourself rubbing an infected eye, wash your hands immediately.
- Try to flush it away. In the old days, people were told to use an egg-cup full of water, which was a real mess. The simplest way is under the shower; turn the eyes into the direct spray, and open them even a little.
- Use disposable wipes, or tissues. Do NOT use your towel to dry your eyes, as this will leave infection on the fabric, which will then reinfect you the next time you use it.
- Sterilize or discard any cosmetics, sponges,brushes, that touch the eye lids or lashes.
- Your doctor will give you some prescription eye drops with anti-bacterial ingredients. Use these as directed, and make sure you insert them correctly. For directions, see Eye Drops Made Easy
- After the second day, improvements should be noted, and the infection should be all gone by the fourth day. If not, then go back to see your doctor. At this point a more thorough exam by an eye specialist might be needed.
- I always suggest patients use the drops for an extra day after the last of the symptoms, for good measure.
If you follow the above steps, and take your prescribed eye drops as directed, you should be quickly back to normal.