The condition that we usually call “pinkeye” is actually more accurately called by its medical name “conjunctivitis.” It affects the part of the eye called the conjunctiva, the membrane covering the white part of our eyes. An inflammation of that membrane by bacteria or a virus will cause the tiny blood vessels in the membrane to swell, giving the eyes a reddish appearance. Many myths and misconceptions surround this fairly common ailment:
Pinkeye is Dangerous
When the white part of your eyes suddenly turn a bright pink, it is easy to become alarmed. However, in the vast majority of cases pinkeye is not a serious threat to your vision or your overall health. Except in extreme cases, it rarely causes any long term problems. So if you suddenly develop conjuntivitis, don’t head immediately to the emergency room in Los Angeles or any other city. Pinkeye is not a medical emergency.
Eye Contact Can Spread Pinkeye
One of the most ridiculous, yet persistent myths about pinkeye is that it can be spread by direct eye contact with a person who has it. No, simply looking a person in the eye who has the disease will not cause you to get it. Sometimes pinkeye can be contagious, but its spread has absolutely nothing to do with looking directly into the eyes of someone who has it.
All Forms of Pinkeye are the Same
Actually, conjunctivitis comes in numerous forms with an array of causes. Infectious Conjunctivitis is caused by an infection, usually through contact with the secretions from the eye of the infected person. Other forms of pinkeye are caused by allergies, such as to smoke or pollen.
All Forms of Pinkeye are Contagious
There are actually several forms of pinkeye that cannot spread to another person under normal circumstances. Non-infectious conjunctivitis is caused by exposure to certain irritants, like chemicals that get splashed in your eyes or some foreign object. Neonatal conjunctivitis occurs in mothers who have sexually transmitted diseases. This is one of the few serious forms of pinkeye, since blindness can result if untreated. Giant Papillary conjunctivitis refers to the chronic irritation that sometimes strikes people wearing contact lenses. None of these forms of pinkeye can be spread to others.
Conjunctivitis is an unpleasant but usually minor disease. It sometimes requires treatment, yet often soon goes away on its own. Don’t let myths about pinkeye unnecessarily alarm you, but do seek medical attention if symptoms persist.