While a new school year is cause for excitement as students return to their classrooms and friends, it also brings a level of anxiety for parents when those same kids come home with unexpected illnesses. Cold and flu season typically begins in the fall, but every year Dr. Vivienne Velasco of iFocus Vision Center begins to see increased cases of pink eye, or conjunctivitis, at the start of a new semester.

What is Pink Eye?

“ A virus, bacteria, fungus, allergy, foreign body, or inflammatory disease, can cause an eye to look pink.” Dr. Velasco says.

Typical symptoms include the aforementioned redness, accompanied by a gritty, itchy feeling in the eye, as if you have something stuck in your eye. Some parents might also notice their children waking in the morning with crust in their eyes or a discharge that can be yellow, green, or white.

Other symptoms can include:

  • Burning eyes
  • Blurry vision
  • Swelling or puffiness of the eyelid
  • Pain in the eyes

There are two types of pink eye, viral and bacterial. The former – also the most common – is often linked to a cold and starts in one eye before making its way to the other. Bacterial pink eye is caused by an infection and can occur following a respiratory or ear infection.

“It is difficult without proper equipment for someone to be able to distinguish between a viral versus bacterial conjunctivitis,” Dr. Velasco says.“They both can look the same but the treatment is much different between the two.”

How to Treat “Pink Eye”

For viral cojunctivitis, Dr. Velasco will treat the problem with specialized drops, and symptoms of conjunctivitis can clear up within two weeks. For bacterial conjunctivitis, she may prescribe an antibiotic to help relieve the symptoms and clear up a patient’s vision.

Prevention, Dr. Velasco says, should always be top of mind for parents, because school-age children will come into contact with a lot of kids, and a lot of germs.

“Make sure you always wash your hands often and keep your hands away from your eyes and mouth,” she says. “Especially if you’ve touched something that may be contaminated.”

Call Your Optometrist, Not Urgent Care

Viral conjunctivitis is extremely contagious, and seeing their kids come home with redness in the eye can send a parent rushing to urgent care. But Dr. Velasco says it makes more sense to see an optometrist who can determine whether or not that redness is actually a symptom of conjunctivitis.

“Most urgent care facilities do not have the proper equipment to examine the eye,” she explains. “Urgent care providers have very little training in the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases and it can be difficult for them to distinguish the difference between the types of conjunctivitis.”

She likens it to seeing an urgent care provider for a toothache. They may prescribe something for the pain, but would be incapable of getting to the root of the problem and, most importantly, correcting it. A call to an optometrist can save a parent from having to give their child an unnecessary prescription.

“iFocus Vision Center offers 24 hour emergency care,” she adds. “And an office visit fee can be less expensive than going to an urgent care facility.”

For information about pink eye prevention and treatment, or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Velasco, contact iFocus Vision Center online or call 702-473-5660.