Is It Pink Eye or Is It Conjunctivitis? ‘Pink eye’ is really a layman’s term that generally describes an eye that is red and inflamed.
“You have conjunctivitis ” the eye doctor informed his concerned patient.
“Don’t I have ‘pink eye’?” the patient questioned.
“Yes ” the doctor responded.
Although this may sound confusing both doctor and patient here are correct. The patient does have conjunctivitis an inflammation of the conjunctiva....and because her eyes are a deep reddish-pink in color she also has ‘pink eye’.
‘Pink eye’ is really a layman’s term that generally describes an eye that is red and inflamed. The redness could be caused by any number of reasons but most commonly it’s due to a bacterial or viral infection. However a pink eye could also be due to problems with contact lenses allergies dryness fungal infection systemic illness or medications ultraviolet radiation or even cancer. Merely stating that a person has ‘pink eye’ leaves many questions unanswered as to its cause.
So what is the “conjunctiva” that is inflamed in conjunctivitis? Here’s an illustration.
Picture a ping-pong ball. Now picture a ping-pong ball wrapped in Saran Wrap. The ball represents the eye ball itself; the Saran Wrap is the conjunctiva. Describing it more fully the conjunctiva is a thin transparent membrane covering the surface of the eye. It begins at the outer edge of the cornea (the transparent dome-shaped window covering the front of the eye) covers the visible part of the sclera (commonly known as "the white of the eye ") and lines the inside of the eyelids. Within this membrane are tiny blood vessels that are nearly invisible to the naked eye.
The conjunctiva is particularly vulnerable to infection because of its exposure to the environment. Particles floating in the air can trigger allergies or cause the conjunctiva to become infected. Also when we inadvertently rub our eyes we often inoculate ourselves with bacteria viruses and any other toxic material that happen to be hitching a ride on our unclean hands. As a matter of fact rubbing the eyes with contaminated hands is a very common mechanism of catching the common cold and the flu.
Once the virus or bacterial particles are in the eye they become mixed in with the tears. Like driftwood flowing in a river’s current the bacteria or virus particles are washed down into the throat as the tears drain from the eye. Once in the throat they are home free to cause illness. Needless to say frequent hand washing especially during cold or flu season goes a long way to keep us healthy.
Click here for more information about the different causes of conjunctivitis.