Tips for preventing pink eye

It happens every year. We run ourselves ragged to get the best deals, attend a massive number of holiday parties and rarely find the time to wash our hands. But all it takes is one little itchy eyelash to get us poking around in our eyes.

Woman drinking coffee and rubbing eyes

This is the time of year when I start to see a significant increase in patients coming in with red, goopy, watery and generally uncomfortable eyes. There’s a whole host of eye conditions that get lumped into the dreaded “pink eye” diagnosis.

Causes of conjunctivitis (“pink eye”)

Touching your eyes without washing your hands is asking for trouble, particularly when there is already a lot of sickness going around. The conjunctiva, the clear membrane that coats under your eyelids and the whites of your eyes, is one of germs’ favorite places to enter the body. So be sure to resist the urge to use testers at the makeup counter directly on your eyes, as conjunctivitis-causing germs can hang out on almost any surface. When the membranes do become infected, symptoms range from redness and itching to burning and even pain.

Types of eye infections

It’s important to understand there are three common types of conjunctivitis: allergic, bacterial and viral.


Bacterial conjunctivitis is a common type and passes from one person to another very easily. Symptoms include redness, irritation and a discharge that can crust over at night. Also be on the lookout for an increase in yellow or greenish discharge throughout the day. Antibiotic drops are used to treat this type of infection.


Any number of viruses can cause a red, irritated eye. Redness and tearing are the typical symptoms, along with a watery clear discharge from the eye (not the thick, goopy, yellowish-green discharge found with bacterial infections). Like the bacterial type, it may be contagious, but don’t bother with antibiotics; as with all viruses, antibiotics are not the answer. Artificial-tear drops and patience are your best bet. In more extreme cases, steroid medications may be required to achieve resolution.


With ocular allergies, the symptoms can be prompted by anything from dust, pollen, cleaning products to industrial pollutants. The hallmark of allergic conjunctivitis is itching; tearing and redness are usually present as well. There is typically a discharge associated with allergic conjunctivitis — this debris is whitish in color and sticky to the touch. The symptoms can range from mild to severe. The mild cases can be handled by removing the allergy-causing antigen with artificial tears or over-the-counter topical decongestant drops. The more stubborn symptoms may require prescription antihistamines or even topical steroid drops to fully get rid of the itch and tearing.

There are a number of less common causes of “red eyes.” If you have any of the symptoms above, it’s best to play it safe and see your local eye doctor, especially if you have discharge or pain. In the meantime, keep your hands clean, don’t share your eye makeup with anyone and try not to touch your eyes throughout the day to lower your risk of exposure in the first place.

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