Pink Eye

There seems to be an epidemic of pink eye going around in our city, Chennai. I have been getting a few phone calls from friends and family who are worried.

Pink eye which is more popularly known as Madras Eye is a form of conjunctivitis. Conjunctiva is the outer layer of the eye ball which also coats the inside of the eyelids. When this becomes inflamed, the eye turns pink or red and the eyelids may become swollen.

There are many types of conjunctivitis. This particular type called Madras Eye was discovered to be caused by an adenovirus in 1918 in Madras and hence the name.

Symptoms are typically redness, watering, irritation and foreign body sensation, swelling of eye lids, and sometimes the eyelashes may become mattered with a sticky discharge.

In most patients it is self-limiting and goes away in 7 to 10 days. In some, the central clear portion of the eye, called the cornea may be affected. It is also advisable to have the eye looked at by an eye specialist 5 to 7 days after the start of the first symptoms. It is also advisable to seek medical attention if the discharge, pain or sensitivity to light is excessive. If the cornea is involved it may need topical medications (eyedrops) for a few weeks

This conjunctivitis may be accompanied by some sore throat. Treatment of the pink eye is symptomatic. Keeping the lashes clean and using some tear substitutes to relieve the irritation, is usually sufficient. Antibiotics are not needed as this is caused by a virus. Self-medication with antibiotics is not recommended as this leads to antibiotic resistance.

Prevention is the key. It is important not to share towels, sheets etc. with the affected person. Tissues that are used for wiping eyes should be promptly discarded. It is best to refrain from sending children who have conjunctivitis to school as the infection spreads very easily.