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8 Myths About Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)

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Conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink eye, is an infection that irritates the surface of the eyeball and the interior of the eyelid. This results in a distinct pink colouration that varies in intensity on a case by case basis, itching, inflammation, and even fever-like warmth on the eyelids.

This common infection can seem scary, especially when it occurs unexpectedly. For general information on the condition, visit our article on conjunctivitis. For a look at how the drama of this disease has contaminated the way people think about it, keep reading.

Below we’ve compiled a list of eight of the most common myths about the occurrence of pink eye, its spread, and its treatment.

1. Conjunctivitis Can Spread By Looking

This myth sounds a little kooky. After all, eye contact can’t even spread infection in the most far-fetched zombie movies. But still this myth persists. This particular misconception is the pet of incorrigible children and the bane of elementary school nurses.

So far, medical professionals have not discovered a single disease spread through simple eye contact.

2. Pink Eye Is Contagious Through Air

When you encounter someone with inflamed eyes, shying away is a natural instinct. Some kinds of conjunctivitis are in fact highly contagious. These forms of pink eye spread through sharing washcloths, borrowing eye makeup, and exposing the eyes to bacteria.

However, many forms of pink eye aren’t contagious at all. Eye irritants, like certain chemicals, and seasonal allergens can cause the same pinkness.

3. Pillow + Flatulence = Pink Eye

This myth also tends to circulate on playgrounds and in high school quads. The story goes that if a prankster, them, “releases bad air” on your pillowcase, you’ll wind up with pink eye. Because some pink eye comes from bacteria, this might happen if said prankster wore no undergarments and you unwittingly slept on the pillowcase immediately after.

Flatulence is primarily composed of methane gas, which, while it may stink, can’t cause infection. To cause an infection, this prankster’s flatulence would have to contain an unusually high concentration of bacteria. And, because bacteria don’t survive exposure to open air for long, any plausible risk disappears after a few minutes.

4. Pink Eye Could Blind You . . . Or Worse

The idea that pink eye could blind or kill you doesn’t hold a lot of water. Most of the time pink eye is a minor infection. In some cases, it even resolves itself within 7 to 10 days. It is important, however, to consult with a doctor because swelling, discolouration, and itching of the eyes may indicate a more serious condition (one that does actually endanger your eyesight).

Sufferers should seek immediate medical attention if they develop a rash, fever, or severe eye pain.

5. Red Eye is Just a Kind of Pink Eye

Not all eye discolouration qualifies as pink eye. Many types of eye irritation cause pinkness. Pink eye results in bright inflammation on the surface of the eye. Red eye manifests as redness on or around the eye and usually indicates conditions other than allergies or infection. These conditions include:

  • Foreign objects, like insects or metal fragments, in the eye
  • Glaucoma
  • Infection of the eye socket
  • Injury to the surface of the eye, such as scrapes or sores

6. There’s Only One Treatment

Because many people don’t know that there are many causes for pink eye, they assume the treatment for each case of pink eye is exactly the same. There are actually a range of treatment options, depending on the cause of the infection. Common treatments for each type include:

  • Allergy-related: antihistamines, removal of allergens, steroid eye drops for inflammation
  • Bacterial: antibiotics regimens
  • Dry Eye Syndrome: moisturizing eye drops, lubricating ointments, punctual plugs
  • Type I Herpes: inhibiting medications
  • Viral: improved hygiene, antivirals

7. You Have to Stay Home Until It’s Gone

Whether or not you need to limit your contact with others until your pink eye is gone depends on the type. People suffering from pink eye caused by allergies or a virus can attend school or work normally after they confirm the cause with a doctor (though they may not want to).

People with bacterial pink eye must stay home for at least a full 24 hours after they begin taking antibiotics. Then they should be ready to resume their normal activities.

8. You Must Get Rid of Things That Touched Your Eyes

If you contract an infectious version of pink eye, you will need to get rid of some things. These include:

  • Contaminated contact lens cases or cleaning solution
  • Disposable contact lenses are worn since contracting conjunctivitis
  • Eye makeup used immediately preceding or during the infection

9. You Can Get Pink Eye From Farts

One of the biggest myths about conjunctivitis is that farting on pillows can cause pink eye. The truth is, you cannot get pink eye from farts. It is usually a result of poor hygiene and nothing more. Frequently touching the eyes without washing your hands can cause bacteria to transfer from your hands to the eyes. If you don’t wash your face and eyes and allow bacteria to build up, it can lead to something like pink eye.

Another fact is that the gasses that come from farting are mostly methane which cannot cause pink eye. Thus, you can rest on your pillows in peace knowing you won’t wake up with conjunctivitis because of that.

10. You Can Die From Pink Eye

Most cases of pink eye are mild and do not cause too much damage. It can cause irritation and itchiness that may become difficult to bear but certainly isn’t life-threatening.

However, if your symptoms are accompanied by respiratory problems or swelling in lymph nodes, you must visit a doctor immediately. This is quite common in children who often suffer from community-transmitted viruses.

If you wear non-disposable contact lenses, consult with our doctor. In some cases, you may need to replace the lenses to avoid re-infection. You should also wash any towels, washcloths, or bedclothes you use separately from the rest of your laundry.

Pink eye can be uncomfortable and even embarrassing. If the condition manifests with pain or doesn’t respond to treatment, speak to our optometrist.

For more information about eye health and common eye conditions,browse our archive of informative articles.

Call today to book an appointment at one of our three Calgary eye clinics.

Written by Donald Bishop

In addition to his Doctor of Optometry from the University of Waterloo, Dr. Bishop also earned his pharmacological therapeutics certification from Northeastern State University of Oklahoma. He graduated in 1983 and has been practising optometry in Alberta ever since.

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