Most people don’t immediately think to consult an eye doctor when experiencing those classic “pink eye” symptoms – goopy and crusty eyes that are red and itchy – yet eye doctors are better equipped to treat conjunctivitis (the clinical term for pink eye) than many types of medical professionals. Rather than rushing to the emergency clinic or your primary care physician the next time you or your loved one exhibits such symptoms, consider a diagnosis by your trusted eye doctor in order to determine if conjunctivitis is the culprit.
Unbeknownst to most of the general population, conjunctivitis comes in three varieties: Viral, bacterial and allergic. Let’s take a quick look at each of these:
- Viral Conjunctivitis – Most often associated with a cold, sore throat or upper respiratory tract infection, this type can be caused by an adenovirus or herpes virus, each of which are treated differently.
- Bacterial Conjunctivitis – Caused by an infection fed by bacteria such as Staphylococcus Aureus, Streptococcus Pneumoniae or Haemophilus, this type attacks the immune system when it’s weakened (though it’s most common in children and the elderly), allowing such bacteria to make a home on lids, lashes and surfaces of the eyes.
- Allergic Conjunctivitis – This type is caused by allergies to pollen, dust mites, pet dander and mold.
Now, in keeping with the subject of this post, let’s take a look at the ways both patients and even some medical professionals often get the diagnosis and treatment of pink eye wrong.
First, let us start by saying that because it can be difficult for eye doctors to distinguish the cause of conjunctivitis simply by way of examination, it’s very important to ask the right questions to help pinpoint the cause. Further, many doctors prescribe an antibiotic as an overall precaution for anyone exhibiting pink eye symptoms, but this isn’t always the best first approach due to known and evolving antibiotic resistance.
Here’s a somewhat alarming statistic: According to a new study published in the Journal of Ophthalmology, most people with acute conjunctivitis are receiving the wrong treatment – about 60-percent of patients are prescribed antibiotic eye drops, irrespective of the fact that antibiotics are rarely necessary to treat this common eye infection. About 20-percent receive an antibiotic-steroid eye drop that can actually prolong or worsen the infection. The study also found that 83-percent of conjunctivitis cases are being treated by primary care physicians/providers who were much more likely to prescribe an antibiotic than an ophthalmologist or optometrist would.
Why are antibiotics rarely necessary to treat acute conjunctivitis? Bacterial conjunctivitis is much rarer than viral and allergic conjunctivitis; in all honesty, antibiotics are rarely necessary even for bacterial conjunctivitis, since most cases are of the mild variety and often resolve on their own within a week or two. At Matossian Eye Associates, we educate patients with simple treatment recommendations to resolve pink eye symptoms, including warm compresses for lid crusting and cool compresses and artificial tears for irritation.
Over-the-counter antihistamine eye drops are also recommended by Matossian Eye Associates team for easing the itching and tearing caused by allergic conjunctivitis.
What’s important to take from this article is that you should seek care from an eye doctor when you have pink eye, and not to be alarmed when an antibiotic isn’t prescribed, as it is rarely necessary.