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Ophthalmologists Advise that Quick Medical Help, Hygiene Essential to Treating, Preventing the Spread of Contagious Pink Eye

02/13/2014   04:00:00 PM

Bob Costas' worsening conjunctivitis a reminder of the dangers of eye infections

SAN FRANCISCO — As Bob Costas' worsening eye infection prompts him to step away from his Sochi Olympics reporting duties, the American Academy of Ophthalmology is reminding the public of the importance of seeking prompt medical treatment and practicing good hygiene to reduce the spread of what can be highly infectious eye conditions.

Media have reported that Costas is suffering from what is commonly referred to as "pink eye," the medical term for which is conjunctivitis, an inflammation or infection of the transparent membrane (conjunctiva) that lines the eyelid and covers the white part of the eyeball. When small blood vessels in the conjunctiva become inflamed, they become more visible and cause the whites of the eye to appear reddish or pink.

People who believe that they have symptoms of conjunctivitis should see an ophthalmologist – a medical doctor specializing in the diagnosis, medical and surgical treatment of eye diseases and condition – to get diagnosed and receive immediate care. Conjunctivitis typically lasts a short time and may be treated with eye drops or cold compresses, depending on the type or cause of the condition. However, symptoms that continue for an extended period of time may indicate a more serious eye problem. Several eye diseases can cause the eye to appear red, some of which can lead to blindness unless diagnosed and treated.

There are three types of conjunctivitis – all with different causes and treatments:

  • Bacterial conjunctivitis – This is a highly contagious form of pink eye caused by bacterial infections, such as Staphylococcus or Streptococcus. The infection can cause a red eye, discharge and crusting of the eyelashes in the morning. Physicians typically prescribe antibiotic eye drops to speed healing and reduce contagion. In 2005 alone, there were approximately 4 million cases of bacterial conjunctivitis in the United States, with indirect and direct costs of treatment coming to an estimated $589 million.[i]
  • Viral conjunctivitis – Viral infection is a common cause of conjunctivitis. The viruses that cause pink eye are often the same as those that cause the common cold. Symptoms of irritation and light sensitivity can last from a few days to two weeks and often disappear on their own. Discomfort can be minimized with cool compresses applied to the eyes. Antibiotic eye drops do not cure viral conjunctivitis.
  • Allergic conjunctivitis – This form of conjunctivitis is not infectious or contagious and occurs when the body is exposed to something that causes an allergic reaction, such as pollen or other environmental allergen, or pet dander. The primary symptom is itching.

Practicing good hygiene can prevent the spread of bacterial and viral conjunctivitis. People who have the condition should do the following:

  • Wash your hands often.
  • Avoid touching your eyes.
  • Do not reuse towels, washcloths, handkerchiefs and tissues to wipe your face and eyes.
  • Change pillowcase frequently.
  • Replace your eye cosmetics regularly with new ones, and do not share them with other people.
  • Avoid wearing contact lenses. To prevent infection, always clean your contact lenses properly. In the case of disposable contacts, follow the instructions on the box and dispose when advised.

"While pink eye – or what doctors call bacterial or viral conjunctivitis – is often associated with children and schools where it can spread easily among students, the seriousness of Bob Costas' reported eye infection during the Olympics is a reminder that conjunctivitis can strike at any age and can progress to a level that can even cause adults to miss work," said ophthalmologist Richard L. Abbott, M.D., a past president of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and corneal and external eye disease specialist. "Fortunately, most cases of conjunctivitis are easily treatable and its transmission preventable. Diligence in getting quick medical help and practicing good hygiene to prevent spread to the other eye or individuals is the key."

To find out more information on pink eye and other eye conditions and diseases, visit www.geteyesmart.org.

About the American Academy of Ophthalmology
The American Academy of Ophthalmology, headquartered in San Francisco, is the world's largest association of eye physicians and surgeons — Eye M.D.s — with more than 32,000 members worldwide. Eye health care is provided by the three "O's" – ophthalmologists, optometrists, and opticians. It is the ophthalmologist, or Eye M.D., who has the education and training to treat it all: eye diseases, infections and injuries, and perform eye surgery. For more information, visit www.aao.org. The Academy's EyeSmart® program educates the public about the importance of eye health and empowers them to preserve healthy vision. EyeSmart provides the most trusted and medically accurate information about eye diseases, conditions and injuries. OjosSanos™ is the Spanish-language version of the program. Visit www.geteyesmart.org or www.ojossanos.org to learn more.


[i] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19939250

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