Question: Every morning I wake up with my eyes matted shut, my mouth dry and my throat filled with snot. When I try to give my wife of 35 years a good morning kiss, she says, “Honey I love you, but are you kidding me?” She told me to go to the doctor, or if I was too much of a cheapskate, to write to Ask a Doctor for advice in solving this problem. Well, I’m writing. — Bud, of Ottawa
Dear Bud, it seems you may have what may be called pink eye.
Pink eye is the everyday term people use to describe an infection or irritation of the eye. The medical term for pink eye is “conjunctivitis.” Your eyes may turn pink or red, weep or ooze a gooey or clear liquid, become itchy or burn, get stuck shut, especially when you first wake up. It is also possible to get extra sensitivity to bright light. Sometimes your eyes may get blurry. Eyes may get infected if you may have scratched the eye with your contact lenses.
Your wife is right, most cases of pink eye get better on their own, but you may have to go to the doctor if you have a lot of pain in your eye. You may consider going to the doctor if your vision is blurry or you are sensitive to light — and it does not get better when you wipe away discharge from your eye. If you have a health condition that weakens your immune system, like cancer, HIV or diabetes, consider seeing the doctor.
The pink eye may be caused by a bacterial or viral infection or you may have allergies.
The pink is from an infection; it can easily spread from one person to another. The infection will clear in most cases without medical care, but bacterial pinkeye needs treatment with antibiotic eye drops or ointment.
Usually, people catch it from touching something that has been in contact with an infected person’s eye. It can also be spread when an infected person touches someone else and then that person touches his or her eyes.
If you know someone with pink eye, avoid touching his or her pillowcases, towels or other personal items. Your wife may want to take precautions.
When pink eye is caused by infection, it is usually caused by a virus, so antibiotics will not help. Still, pink eye caused by a virus can last several days. Pink eye caused by an infection with bacteria can be treated with antibiotic eye drops. Pink eye caused by other problems can be treated with eye drops normally used to treat allergies. These drops will not cure the pink eye but they can help with itchiness and irritation.
When using eye drops for infection, do not touch your good eye after touching your affected eye, and do not touch the bottle or dropper directly in one eye and then use it in the other. Doing these things can cause the infection to spread from one eye to the other.
You did not tell us if you use contacts. If you do, you might need to stop wearing your contacts for a short time. If your contacts are disposable, you will want to throw them away and start fresh. If you contacts are not disposable, you will need to carefully clean them. You should also throw away your contact lens case and get a new one.
Try to prevent the pink eye. To keep from getting or spreading pink eye, wash your hands often with soap and water. Also, avoid sharing towels, bedding or other personal items with a person who has pink eye.
Hand washing is especially important to prevent spreading illness. Washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Dry your hands with a paper towel that you can throw away.
If you are not near a sink, you can use a hand gel to clean your hands. The gels with at least 60 percent alcohol work the best. But it is better to wash with soap and water if you can.
Your wife has good advice. It is better to see your doctor.
Suman Kumar Mishr MD, Fellow of American College of Endocrinology, Cridersville