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Viral Conjunctivitis

This information has been prepared as a service to our patients. It is not meant to act as a substitute for individual medical advice for specific patients. 

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This information on viral conjunctivitis or what is commonly referred to as “pink eye” is meant to assist our patients and their families. It is not a replacement for clinical examination. The purpose of this information is to help individuals protect themselves from acquiring viral conjunctivitis.

What is viral conjunctivitis or “pink eye”?
Commonly acquired viral conjunctivitis or adenoviral conjunctivitis is a viral infection, much like the flu virus, which can cause a gritty, sandy sensation one or both eyes. The eyelids may become puffy and the patient may experience mild to severe sensitivity to light. One or both eyes may become affected, either simultaneously or sequentially. There is often a great deal of clear watery discharge from the eyes. The eyes may feel very itchy. The patient may feel generally unwell with flu like symptoms that may persist for a week or two.

Is there any treatment for the virus?
There is no direct treatment for the virus itself. Adenovirus is self limiting, that is it will resolve over time. Generally this takes ten to fourteen days. However, during this time it is important to remember that the virus is highly contagious and easily transmissible. The medications prescribed by your eye doctor are not intended to treat the virus for which there is no treatment but rather to treat the many symptoms that arise because of the viral infection. Some individuals will experience very mild symptoms, while a few individuals will experience fairly severe symptoms requiring treatment under the care of an eye doctor.

How does someone catch the virus that causes “pink eye” or “viral conjunctivitis”?
There are a number of ways in which you can catch the virus. Most commonly this happens through close personal contact with an infected person. By sharing towels or pillowcases with someone who already has the infection. By being exposed to secretions by someone who is infected sneezing or coughing near you. Touching something after an infected person has touched it then touching your eye. Shaking hands with someone who is infected and then touching your facial area. Touching door knobs, gym equipment, etc. used by people who are infected prior without wiping down the equipment and touching your facial area while or after doing so.

How do I protect myself from getting viral conjunctivitis or “pink eye”?
The purpose of the above is to show you how easy it is to acquire the infection. It is also to stress that the most important thing you can do to protect yourself from this infection is to establish good, frequent hand washing regimen using soap and water. When you are in public places, try to use a hand sanitizer and avoid unnecessarily touching your eyes and facial area when you think you may have been exposed.

How long will it take for the infection to get better?
Most individuals with the viral conjunctivitis will get better in about 2 weeks. However a small number of people will have a reaction to the virus that will require treatment under the care of an ophthalmologist/eye specialist. Please do not self medicate. It is important to protect your vision. Remember that many different types of eye diseases cause the eye to become red and it is important before starting any treatment that you are seen by your eye doctor so that he/she can establish which type of infection or problem exists and treat you appropriately.

Will wearing sun glasses or spectacles protect me from getting infected or transmitting the infection to others?
No, this is largely a myth. Just as you cannot get infected by looking at an infected person, you also cannot protect yourself or others by wearing glasses. Contact with secretions from an infected person is what puts you at risk. Under all circumstances, the most important thing you can do is use frequent hand washing and avoid use of towels used by other people to dry your hands.

If I have the virus, what can I do to prevent its spread to others?
If you have the virus, avoid touching your eye and facial area. When you do, wash your hands immediately or use a good quality hand sanitizer. If you use a tissue paper to wipe your eyes or nose, please discard it immediately in a dust bin. Do not place it on the desk or table as you will infect that surface as well. You must avoid shaking hands. If you are directly in contact with people and work in health care, please speak to your supervisor who can arrange for you to be seen and can assess if you should be avoid direct contact with people while you are contagious.

Should I send my child to school if he/she is infected?
You must not send your child to school for ten days after the infection as your child will infect other children.

What can I do to help my symptoms if I am infected?
Using a cold compress/ ice pack to closed eyelids will help you ease your discomfort. You can also use lubricant drops for the eye. These are called “artificial tear drops”. They will keep you feeling more comfortable. However, if you need anything beyond this please see your eye doctor. Also, if you have more than one infected person in the family, please do not share any eye medications you may have been prescribed. You can cause cross contamination of several different types of bacteria and viruses in this way.