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Pink eye isn’t just for kids

One eye has been tearing, oozing, itching and burning all day. Now you’re tooling down the road and the eyelid begins to swell. You’re shocked when you look in your side mirror and your whole eye is reddish pink. Soon, it may be matted shut.

Most people think of “pink eye” as a children’s eye infection, but adults are frequent sufferers, too. Pink eye is the common name for conjunctivitis and refers to all forms of an inflammation of the clear membrane that covers the white part of your eye. It also affects the lining of your eyelids.

Every day, truckers are touching phones, doorknobs, clipboards and pens, so it’s easy for you to contract the virus or bacteria that may cause it. Drivers who are contact lens wearers are particularly susceptible, too, because of long periods of wear.

Pink eye, of course, is highly contagious and can easily spread to the other eye. Will it go away on its own?

“Not typically,” said Dr. Melissa Cable, a Missouri-based ophthalmologist who specializes in ocular disease. 

Cable said treatment depends on what kind of “pink eye” you have – bacterial, allergic or viral. To find out what you have, you’ll need an exam from an ophthalmologist. 

Antibiotic eye drops will alleviate bacterial conjunctivitis, whereas antihistamine pills or eye drops will help control allergic conjunctivitis symptoms. Viral conjunctivitis doesn’t respond to medications. While it typically clears up on its own, it can take up to two weeks for your eye to return to normal.

Cable said truckers also need to know about chemical conjunctivitis. If your eye has been exposed to an irritating chemical, she advises rinsing your eye with cool running water for 15 minutes and getting to a health professional for a checkup. Depending on the exposure, that might mean the nearest hospital emergency room.

Usually, conjunctivitis is a minor eye infection, but sometimes it can be a more serious condition. If you develop symptoms, see a health professional. One way to help avoid spreading – or contracting – bacterial and viral pink eye is to wash your hands often.

Dr. Melissa Cable is on the staff at Discover Vision Centers, which is among the largest vision care providers in the country.