Pink eyes can occur in isolation, but it often occurs in epidemics at schools and work due to its highly contagious nature.
Pink eyes are caused by an adenovirus that is highly contagious and can survive for very long periods on dry surfaces. A patient will transmit the disease to others for days before he or she becomes symptomatic. The virus is transmitted through viral particles in a patients’ tear film and with coughing, but importantly also with sharing of objects like contaminated towels.
Patients usually present with eyelid swelling, severe irritation and red eyes. The white of the eyes are swollen and can sometimes be bloodshot. The lymph nodes in front of the ears are often tender and swollen. Pulling down the lower eyelid may sometimes reveal a yellow membrane. A patients’ vision may also be affected due to small white infiltrates centrally in the cornea, and these can persist for months if not treated urgently.
It is very important to reduce the transmission risk to friends and family. Frequent hand washing is essential, as well as avoiding eye rubbing and sharing of towels. Cold compresses (ice or something cold wrapped in a dry towel and held on the eye for a minute) will help to alleviate the irritation. Artificial tear drops can be used often, but it might be necessary to use topical steroid drops, especially if the vision is affected. Antibiotic drops might also be needed to treat secondary infections. For this you should consult an ophthalmologist.