I have taken my 1 year old to the pediatrician twice concerned he had an ear infection. His main symptoms were just a little extra fussiness and pulling at his ears. I wasn’t overly worried, but did hate for him to be in pain and me miss something that potentially needed to be treated. Both times his ears ended up looking perfect and he did not have an ear infection. Our pediatrician assured us not to worry and to come in anytime, but it got me thinking – are there any signs that usually do/don’t go along with ear infections that could save my worrying and trip to the doctor next time?
We see the same thing all the time with “pink eye” – whether it be parents worried about their kids or patients worried about themselves, we see a lot of cases of patients with a slight red eye who “just want to make sure it isn’t pink eye.” And let me reassure you – that is what we’re here for! We are more than happy to see you if you are worried at all that you may have an infection. But, here are some tips and common signs to help you triage how urgently you need to be seen or if it’s something you can just watch and wait.
Let’s start off with what is pink eye? Pink eye is an infection, caused usually either by a virus or bacteria, that affects the part of the eye known as the conjunctiva. The technical term for pink eye is conjunctivitis. Depending on whether conjunctivitis is caused by a virus or a bacteria, eye drops may or may not speed up the healing process.
One of the most common signs of pink eye is discharge – if your eyes are gunky, especially stuck together when you wake up in the morning, this is more likely to be a case of pink eye and we recommend a trip to your optometrist to see if eye drops could be helpful. It is unusual to have a case of pink eye without discharge. Association with a cold/sickness is another good indicator it could be pink eye. Why? It is possible to transfer the infection by wiping your nose with your hand and then rubbing your eyes. This doesn’t mean you can’t have pink eye without a cold, but if you’ve had a recent sickness and think you might have pink eye, you’re more likely to be correct.
So what if you (or your child) has a red eye that doesn’t seem to fit the symptoms listed above as pink eye? What else could be causing the problem?
- Allergies. Eye allergies are one of the most common conditions we see patients confuse with pink eye. If your red eye is itchy, watering, and swollen, allergies are a likely culprit. Over the counter oral allergy medications like Zyrtec or Claritin are helpful for other symptoms of allergies like runny nose and sneezing, but allergy eye drops will be much more effective in treating the eye symptoms. Pataday, Alaway, and Zaditor are all good options.
- Contact Lens Complications. If you are a contact lens wearer and you have a red eye this is something that absolutely should not be ignored. It could be a corneal ulcer – basically an open sore on the cornea (the clear part of your eye where the contact lens sits) that can scar and damage your vision. Symptoms of a corneal ulcer that are less common if it would be pink eye are pain and light sensitivity. If you suspect you may have a corneal ulcer stop wearing your contacts and opt for glasses and give us a call to schedule an appointment – you’ll need a prescription antibiotic eye drop and close monitoring to make sure things heal properly.
Hopefully these tips give you a little more confidence in what could be causing your red eye and if you need to see your optometrist sooner rather than later. If you’re at all unsure though, give us a call! No problem is too small for us to take a look at and it’s always better to be safe than sorry. The doctors at Columbia Eye Consultants Optometry are here to handle all of your red eye needs and provide you peace of mind and treatment when necessary.