Don't Let Conjuctivitis Catch You

11/19/2012

By: Kristin Shives
TRICARE Management Activity

Conjuncti-what? Conjunctivitis is a common eye condition that affects people worldwide. It’s uncomfortable and highly contagious, so how can TRICARE beneficiaries prevent themselves from catching the infection?

Conjunctivitis is often called "pink eye" or "red eye" because it can cause the white of the eye to take on a pink or red color, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Viruses, bacteria and allergies are common causes of pink eye. Common symptoms include pink or red color in the white of the eye, discharge from the eye, itchy or scratchy eyes, and crusting of eyelids or lashes.

There are three forms of conjunctivitis: viral, bacterial and allergic conjunctivitis. Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are caused when a virus or bacterium enter and infect the eye. Both viral and bacterial conjunctivitis usually begin in one eye and progress to the second eye, with symptoms that are typically mild and clear up within 2-3 weeks. Allergic conjunctivitis happens when the body reacts to irritants or allergens such as pollen, dust mites, molds, pet dander, contact lenses and cosmetics. Symptoms are mild and are similar to viral and bacterial conjunctivitis.

Signs, symptoms and a patient’s history will help a doctor, nurse or healthcare provider diagnose conjunctivitis. Treatment for “pink eye” depends on the cause and severity; it’s not always necessary to seek medical treatment. However, the CDC recommends seeking medical attention if the following symptoms are present:

  • Moderate to severe pain in the eye(s)
  • Vision problems, such as sensitivity to light or blurred vision
  • Intense redness in the eye(s)
  • Symptoms become worse or persist
  • Treatment with antibiotics does not begin to improve after 24 hours

Most cases of conjunctivitis will clear up without treatment, but some severe cases require antibiotics to help speed up recovery and stop the spread of infection. TRICARE covers most prescribed antibiotics at no cost through military treatment facility pharmacies, and for minimal out-of-pocket costs at retail network pharmacies.

The best way to prevent the spread of conjunctivitis is to practice good hygiene habits. To limit the spread of conjunctivitis to other people follow these steps from the CDC:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water
  • Avoid touching or rubbing eyes
  • Wash pillowcases, sheets, washcloths, towels and blankets
  • Do not share eye makeup, face make-up, make-up brushes, contact lenses and containers or eyeglasses
  • Don’t use swimming pools

There’s no vaccine to prevent conjunctivitis, but there are ways to avoid catching and spreading the crud by good hygiene practices. More information about conjunctivitis can be found at www.cdc.gov/conjunctivitis. TRICARE makes healthy living the easy choice, learn more at www.tricare.mil/livewell.

Last Updated 6/3/2014