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are eye infections contagious

Do you or someone you know have an eye infection? If so, precautions are necessary to prevent the eye infection from spreading to others.

Contact your optometrist or your physician if you suspect you or someone in your household has an eye infection – or conjunctivitis. The sooner you know, the more you can implement best practices to keep the infection from spreading.

Signs Of Contagious Eye Infections

Eye infections are highly contagious and spread from person to person in a million different ways. In addition, both the bacteria and viruses that cause eye infections can live outside the body – on everyday surfaces – for up to two weeks!

Conjunctivitis can spread like a common cold through the spray from coughs, sneezes, or direct contact with an infected person – and then contact with your face or eye(s). So, in addition to spreading pink eye by holding hands or sharing eye makeup, you can also catch an eye infection from touching an infected:

  • Door knob
  • Shopping cart handle
  • The door leading into your business or other commercial buildings
  • Computer keyboards
  • Smartphones that are shared or held by others
  • Kitchen and bathroom faucets
  • Anything touched by infected hands that are touched within two weeks

Signs or symptoms of a contagious eye infection include:

  • Red eyes
  • Irritated or scratchy eyes
  • Gritty, itchy, or painful eyes
  • Light sensitivity
  • Constant tearing or watering
  • White, yellow, or green goop build-up (especially upon waking up)
  • Eyelashes that are stuck together in the morning or after naps
  • Swollen tissue around the eyes

Sometimes, the infection affects the entire body, so patients may experience other physical symptoms, like fatigue, fever, or achiness. Most eye infections start in one eye but quickly spread to the other. 

Allergy Season Increases The Risk Of Conjunctivitis

Don’t forget that allergy season is also a prime time to get pink eye. The more you can do to minimize exposure to irritants and allergens and keep allergy symptoms at bay (using eye drops, over-the-counter allergy medications, air purifiers, etc.), the less likely you are to develop allergic conjunctivitis. 

Basic Hygiene Prevents Eye Infections From Spreading

Once you know you’re dealing with an eye infection, hygiene is essential to keep it from spreading.

Wash hands regularly & resist touching the face

Washing hands regularly is a key part of keeping the bacteria or viruses from transferring to other surfaces where they can live for up to two weeks or longer without thorough cleaning.

Be especially mindful of washing your hands after holding or shaking someone else’s hands or touching your face (or your child’s) in the presence of an active infection. 

Don’t rub your eyes

It’s not surprising that young children are usually the ones to bring pink eye home from daycare, preschool, or elementary school. This is because they’re constantly rubbing their eyes and noses and then touching each other and surrounding surfaces. This makes for a perfect conjunctivitis breeding ground.

Anyone with an eye infection will be eager to rub their eyes as an instinctual response to the general itchiness, tearing/watering, and goo. So do your best, and then remember to wash your hands when you forget and rub your eyes or touch your face anyway.

Clean all common-area surfaces routinely

As long as someone in the house has an infection, practice diligent cleaning of any shared surfaces such as door knobs, cabinet door/drawer handles, faucets, countertops, coffee, end tables, etc. The more you clean, the less likely there is to be contagious bacteria or viruses ready to be picked up.

Ditch the contacts for now

If you wear contacts, throw away the infected pair and switch to your glasses until the infection is completely cleared up. Contacts can irritate infected eyes, causing the condition to grow worse than it would have otherwise. Plus, putting in/taking out contacts means you’re touching your eyes – a big no-no when you have contagious eye infections.

Stay Home From School And Work Until The Infection Clears 

Most daycares and schools send kids home the minute they suspect a pink eye infection. In most cases, contagious eye infections clear up on their own with a combination of:

  • Regular eye baths with a clean, warm cloth
  • Flushing the eyes regularly with over-the-counter saline eye washes
  • Eating well and staying hydrated
  • Getting plenty of rest

The problem is that it can take up to a week or two before the infection clears, and that’s a long time to be out of work or school. 

In most cases, your optometrist or physician will prescribe special drops that relieve eye infection symptoms within 24 to 72 hours, although you’ll continue to use the drops for the full five to seven days stated on the prescription. You should not return to work or school until the symptoms have completely cleared up. Otherwise, you’re putting others at risk for infection.

Schedule An Appointment With Your Optometrist

It’s always worth scheduling an appointment when you suspect you or a family member has an eye infection. Even though we use the same terms – pink eye or conjunctivitis – to describe the infection, they have different causes. A bacterial infection should be treated using antibiotic drops, while viral infections may need to run their course as they don’t respond to antibiotic drops. 

Your doctor will explain how to soothe the eyes in the meantime and the steps you can take at home to help clear the infection as soon as possible. In severe cases, they may recommend a course of antiviral medications, but that’s rare.

Also, know that any illness makes you more prone to developing pink eye because your immune system is low. So take good care of yourself when you’re sick, and practice healthy hand and surface hygiene to minimize the risk of developing a contagious eye infection.

Contact Atlantic Eye Institute If You Have Red, Irritated, Or Watery Eyes

Do you have red, itchy, irritated, or water/goopy eyes? An eye infection could be the culprit, so you’ll need treatment to prevent it from spreading through your household (workplace or the kids’ schools). Contact Atlantic Eye Institute, and we’ll schedule an appointment. Odds are you’re just a bottle of prescription eyedrops away from feeling back to your clear-eyed self again.

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