Keeping Clean Can Prevent A Bad Case of Pinkeye

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Keeping Clean Can Prevent A Bad Case of Pinkeye

The sun-filled days of summer are upon us, beckoning us to pools and beaches. However, summertime is also when pinkeye, or conjunctivitis, is at its height, the heat and moisture providing an optimal environment for the spread of viruses that cause the highly contagious eye disease.

Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin, transparent layer that lines the inner eyelid and covers the white of the eye. In conjunctivitis, tiny blood vessels in the conjunctiva to become more prominent, resulting in a pinkish or reddish cast to the eye. In fact, pinkeye and redeye are terms commonly used to refer to all types of conjunctivitis - infectious, allergic and chemical. The infectious type is caused by a contagious virus or bacteria.

Allergic conjunctivitis, on the other hand, is brought on by your body's allergies to pollen, cosmetics, animals or fabrics. Irritants, such as air pollution, noxious fumes and chlorine in swimming pools may produce the chemical form of conjunctivitis.

The most virulent and contagious type of conjunctivitis is called epidemic keratoconjunctivitis (EKC). Adenoviruses, a group of viruses that may cause respiratory infections or survive for long periods in the tonsils, are the culprits of this particular form of conjunctivitis that is the most prevalent in the summertime.

There is usually an incubation period of about one week before symptoms appear. Symptoms include red eyes, the sensation of a foreign object in the eyes and itching. These symptoms are sometimes accompanied by swelling in the eyelids and lymph nodes. With medical treatment, it usually takes about two weeks for the symptoms to disappear.

Acute hemorrhagic conjunctivitis (AHC), a viral conjunctivitis caused by enteroviruses, on the other hand, has a rapid onset, usually within 8-48 hours of exposure. Also known here commonly as "Apollo 11 disease" after the NASA space mission of 1969, the original pandemic of AHC was first recognized that year. AHC returns as an epidemic every few years.

In addition to pain in the eye, aversion to light, watery discharge and swelling of the eyelids, some patients experience fever and headache. The symptoms normally go away after a week or so.

Unlike viral conjunctivitis, which is characterized by a watery discharge, bacterial conjunctivitis produces a thicker, yellow-green discharge, and may be associated with a respiratory infection or a sore throat.

Infectious conjunctivitis caused by bacteria is treated with antibiotic eye drops. Viral conjunctivitis, on the other hand, cannot be treated with antibiotic eye drops and must be fought off by your body's immune system. "There is no effective treatment for viral conjunctivitis, but antibiotics are prescribed to prevent secondary infections," said Choi Woong-san, an ophthalmologist who runs Purun Eye Clinic, Samseong-dong, Seoul.

To relieve the discomfort at home, you can apply warm compresses to the eyes. Although a bloodshot eye may be unsightly, do not cover it up with eye patches. "There is a lot of discharge associated with conjunctivitis and a patch can make the problem worse by keeping the discharge close to the eye," said Dr. Choi.

Contrary to the Korean old wives' tale that you can catch pinkeye just by looking at the eye of the infected person, conjunctivitis is spread by hand. Hence, practicing good hygiene is the best way to avoid the spread of conjunctivitis. Once infected, keep your hands away from your eyes and wash your hands frequently - ever wondered why ophthalmologists never seem to get pinkeye? Change your towel and pillowcase daily. Spare your family the miseries of an eye infection by not sharing towels or handkerchiefs. To prevent conjunctivitis, discard eye cosmetics after a few months and do not share eye cosmetics. Also, keep away from public baths or swimming pools when you have infectious conjunctivitis.

Another summertime risk to the eyes is the sun, the principal danger being in the form of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. When going out in the sun, remember to put on your sunglasses to protect your eyes.

Scientific research has shown that exposure to even small amounts of UV radiation over a period of many years may increase your chances of developing cataracts and can cause damage to the retina.

The American Optometric Association recommends that your sunglasses should block out 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB radiation, screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light, be perfectly matched in color, free of distortion and imperfection and have lenses that are gray, green or brown. In addition, wrap-around frames provide additional protection from harmful UV radiation if you spend a lot of time outdoors in bright sunlight.

Dark sunglasses may actually cause more harm than good if they do not have proper UV protection.

by Kim Hoo-ran

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