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Conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink eye, is a contagious inflammation of the eye, especially the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is a thin membrane or covering of the inner eyelids and the sclera, or whites of the eyes. Wearing contacts with pink eye can increase the risk of contracting this condition in the other eye and slow down the treatment process. Most medical experts suggest that contact wearers should not use their contacts with pink eye.
Pink eye can be caused by a bacterial or viral infection such as the common cold or respiratory infection. It can also be caused by allergies, chemical exposure, foreign objects in the eye, dirty contacts, or poor removal of germs on the hands before handling contacts. Symptoms include reddening of the whites of the eye, itchy or burning sensation, pain in the eye, and a thick yellowish discharge from the eye. Complications that can arise from pink eye can include inflammation of the cornea, the membrane which covers the iris and pupil, which can cause vision problems.
Wearing contacts with pink eye should be avoided, and it's a good idea for someone who has contacts to remove them immediately when symptoms are detected. Doctors recommend that contacts not be used by people with pink eye until at least 24 hours after treatment, such as antibiotic eye drops, has been stopped and symptoms have cleared. Disposable contacts should not be used again after infection. Non-disposable contacts should be disinfected at least 24 hours to thoroughly clean lenses. When the person begins wearing contacts again, he or she should make sure the hands are thoroughly cleaned before handling them to avoid recontamination.
Due to pink eye’s contagious nature, all eye cosmetics should be avoided until symptoms clear, and any makeup used on the eye during the infection should be thrown away. Anything which comes in contact with the eyes, such as pillow cases, wash cloths, and towels should be cleaned after each use to avoid spreading the infection. Frequent hand washing, especially after contact with the eyes, should be utilized to avoid contamination of the other eye and to avoid spreading this inflammatory condition to others.
Bacterial conjunctivitis usually responds to antibiotic eye drops within a few days. There is no treatment for viral pink eye; however, symptoms usually dissipate within a few weeks. Allergic pink eye can be treated with antihistamine or anti-inflammatory eye drops. Conjunctivitis caused by chemical exposure or foreign objects in the eye require flushing of the eye. Wearing contacts with pink eye can exacerbate and prolong symptoms, increasing the risk for complications.
If symptoms do not disappear within a few days it is best to consult with your primary physician to rule out any other causes and to avoid complications. If symptoms reappear after you start using your contacts again, the lenses themselves might be the problem. Those contacts should be disposed of and new lenses should be avoided until the eye is completely healed.