Viral eye infections such as pink-eye can spread easily, but simple awareness of how it’s passed on can help limit its effects.

Cold and flu season can bring along some unwanted and debilitating visitors to our bodies. One of the common issues for eyes during cold and flu season is pink-eye.

Pink-eye, also known as conjunctivitis, is usually a viral infection, although in some cases, it can be caused by other factors such as bacteria, allergies and exposure to chemicals, wind and sun. Pink-eye is typically characterized by redness and swelling of several tissues around the eye. Symptoms of this type of infection can include redness in the white of the eye, eyelid swelling, itching, tearing and clear discharge from the affected eye(s).

It is essential to properly diagnose and treat any eye irritation, and for this reason, an eye specialist should evaluate any condition that causes redness or discomfort of the eyes. Generally, pink-eye is not serious and it is self-limiting, which means that it typically disappears over time.

Viral pink-eye is contagious and spreads very easily. Since treatment or medication for viral conjunctivitis is only for relief, and not to cure the condition, preventing the spread of this infection is very important.

The infection is passed on by contact only and is not airborne. Therefore, poor hand-washing is the main cause of the virus spreading. Sharing objects such as washcloths or bath towels with an infected person can also spread pink-eye. If you are a contact lens wearer and you have been in contact with a person suffering from flu symptoms, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly before handling your lenses.

Viral conjunctivitis usually runs its course in one to two. Since it’s not caused by bacteria, it does not respond to antibiotics. Artificial tears and limited use of antihistamine drops will provide some relief of symptoms, but be sure to check with your eye care specialist to ensure proper treatment.

You may also consider immunization (flu vaccine) to prevent illness and, as a result, self-infection of the eyes during an outbreak. I regularly see patients who have infected their own eyes rather than catching the virus from a family member or friend. Self-infection can happen during a cold or even a few days after recovery.

In summary, keep your hands clean and away from your eyes during cold and flu season, and you’ll enjoy your winter activities and sports much more comfortably.

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