An eye cold is a type of acute viral infection that can cause redness, itching, and tearing in one or both eyes. The condition is also known as viral conjunctivitis and pink eye, and it is commonly accompanied by respiratory and sinus problems. Eye colds generally do not respond to antiviral drugs or other types of medical treatment, so patients are simply instructed to rest and wait for the virus to run its course. Symptoms typically resolve in two to four weeks after their onset.
Several different viruses can cause an eye cold. The most common cause is a widespread family of pathogens called adenoviruses. Herpes simplex, the influenza virus, and the agents responsible for mumps and measles may also be responsible for infection. Most viruses that can lead to eye colds are highly contagious and can be transmitted through direct contact, sharing towels and toiletries, or drinking from the same glass as an infected person. Children are at the highest risk of developing eye colds because their immune systems are not as well equipped to combat viruses.
The first symptoms of an eye cold may include increased tearing and redness in the whites of the eyes. As inflammation worsens, the eyelids may become swollen, tender, and itchy. A watery clear or white discharge can flow from the tear ducts, which might lead to further irritation and burning sensations. Occasionally, a person with an eye cold experiences blurry vision and light sensitivity. Other symptoms such as a sore throat, coughing, fever, and breathing difficulties may be present if the infection spreads to the lungs.
It is important to seek medical advice at the first signs of an eye cold. A primary care doctor can usually diagnose the condition by carefully inspecting the eyes and eyelids and asking about symptoms. A sample of blood or eye discharge may be collected and analyzed to determine the specific virus involved. After making a diagnosis, a doctor can explain different treatment options.
Eye colds due to herpes simplex infections may be relieved with antiviral drugs, but most other common pathogens are unresponsive to medication. Patients are encouraged to use cold compresses and moisturizing eye drops to reduce swelling and irritation. If inflammation is severe enough to affect vision, a doctor may prescribe a corticosteroid ointment or injection. While waiting for an infection to go away, a patient is usually instructed to wash his or her hands regularly and avoid close physical contact to reduce the chances of spreading the virus. Most people who follow their doctors' orders are able to recover fully in less than one month.