Conjunctivitis is a relatively common condition of the eye, which occurs when there is swelling or infection of the membranes lining the eyelids, called conjunctiva. Conjunctivitis can be caused by many things, including allergies, bacteria and certain diseases. In some cases, the condition is caused by a viral infection, which is commonly known as pink eye. Due to the highly infectious nature of pink eye, an incubation period is required to prevent further infection. Learn more about this condition so that you are fully prepared in the event that you or a family member becomes infected.
Symptoms of pink eye
Pink eye can occur in one or both eyes. Most commonly, patients suffer discomfort in one eye. It may be itchy or feel gritty. Swelling of the conjunctiva normally occurs, and there may be some discharge from the eyes. These symptoms are often exacerbated by the patient, due to rubbing with the hands and fingers. The infected conjunctiva normally turn a pink color, which gives rise to the name of the condition. According to the TeensHealth Web site, the discharge from pink eye is watery, whereas a bacterial infection produces discharge that is thicker and more pus-like.
About the incubation period
An incubation period is the amount of time that elapses between becoming infected with a virus, and the start of any symptoms. According to the Indiana State Department of Health, the incubation period for conjunctivitis differs for bacterial and viral infections. For bacterial conjunctivitis, the incubation period ranges from 24 to 72 hours. For viral conjunctivitis, the incubation period is generally shorter, and is between 12 hours and 3 days.
How pink eye spreads
Pink eye is highly contagious, and it is therefore important to take precautions in order to prevent the condition from spreading. Pink eye is most commonly spread by coming into contact with discharge from the infected conjunctiva or the respiratory tracts of anyone that already has the condition. It is easy to spread the infection on fingers, clothes or objects coming into contact with an infected area. This is why the disease is particularly common in children, as they very often come into closer contact than adults. The disease can be spread at any time during an active infection, which could last for 14 days after the incubation period has expired.
Keeping children home from school
The Mayo Clinic recommends that children with pink eye should be kept away from school. In the event of a bacterial infection, you should keep your child home from school until at least 24 hours after the treatment has started. Children with viral conjunctivitis can be infectious for a week or more. Parents should keep them at home until they no longer experience tearing or matting (where the eye is blocked shut by dried discharge in the morning).
NIH recommends a number of measures to help reduce the risk of infection. Bedding and towels should be changed frequently. In the event that a member of the family is infected, do not share towels or bedding. Encourage your children to keep their hands away from their eyes, and ensure that all members of the family wash their hands regularly. Adults should never share eye cosmetics (such as mascara), and contact lenses should always be handled in an appropriately sterile environment.