I remember when I was about five years-old, I woke up completely unable to open my eyes. It was a terrifying Mary Ingalls-esque moment ("Pa, I can't see! I CAN'T SEE!"), and one I'll never forget. Turns out, I could see, once my mom kindly washed the crusty pus off my poor eyelids — I just pink eye. Dreaded pink eye. (And thankfully not blindness from Scarlet Fever or meningoencephalitis like poor Mary Ingalls apparently suffered.)
Pinkeye (or conjunctivitis for you fancy folks) is really common, and it can be viral or bacterial. Pinkeye is basically an infection of the thin layer over the eyeball -- the conjunctiva -- and the symptoms are red, itchy, swollen, watery eyes, with nasty yellowish discharge when things get really serious. Though it's usually a fairly minor illness, you don't want to mess around with it. Certain strains can damage eyesight, so it's always important to see your doctor to make sure you're doing the right things.
To add to its popularity, it's also VERY CONTAGIOUS, which is why it seems to travel like wildfire through daycares and classrooms. The problem is that pinkeye can be caught via indirect contact as well as direct, so it's really hard to keep others in the area from catching it. (Sounds amazing, doesn't it?)
As an infant, my daughter had pinkeye and a doctor at a walk-in clinic prescribed some antibiotic eye drops for her without so much as a sideways glance at her eye. When we saw our family doctor later that week, he said he typically doesn't bother giving antibiotics for mild cases of pinkeye, recommending instead a regime of constant cleaning and diligent hand-washing.
When my kids were older, my daughter came home and complained about an itchy eye after school one day. I examined it, it looked fine to me, but she insisted it was itchy, and she rubbed the heck out of it. Within hours, it went from itchy to watery, bright red, and very, very irritated. The next morning she had a near-Mary Ingalls fit when her eye was crusty, and I flew into action. I stockpiled all our face cloths, and using warm water, bathed her affected eye every couple hours. Both her eyes were swollen and tender to the touch, very red, and watery through the day. And, young kids being the gross little (very germ-ignorant) things they are, she generously shared it with me, her little brother and daddy, too. Let me tell you -- four people with pinkeye is a sad, disgusting sight.
We went through a LOT of face cloths, and I am pretty sure the house was never cleaner once I disinfected all the things. But we beat it without antibiotics, and (knock on wood) haven't had to deal with it ever since.
Here are five ways to stop pinkeye in its tracks: