Kamran M. Riaz, MD – What’s Difference Between Viral and Bacterial Pinkeye?

WHATEVER THE CAUSE MAY be, pinkeye – or what’s referred to medically as conjunctivitis – is uncomfortable. And the hallmark pink or red appearance of the “white” of the eye caused by irritation can make any sufferer self-conscious as well.

If you have viral pinkeye, there’s a good chance you’ll have it in both eyes. “Viral (conjunctivitis) tends to be more commonly bilateral, though it can be in one eye,” says Dr. Kamran Riaz, an ophthalmologist and clinical associate professor of ophthalmology at the Dean McGee Eye Institute at the University of Oklahoma. “Whereas bacterial tends to be usually just one eye, though it can be in both eyes.”

Steroids, however, don’t shorten the course of the disease and could actually prolong it. “Patients may still have the virus in the eye for a longer period of time,” Riaz says. He explains that’s because the steroid kind of blunts the immune system response to the eye infection. “So the steroids can kind of help you feel a little bit better.” But he and other experts note, they can also keep you infectious for longer.

“That’s been used with increasing frequency and success,” Riaz says. But it’s administered in the doctor’s office – it’s not the same thing as buying betadine at your local pharmacy and applying to your eye yourself. “There isn’t anything commercially available, so it really has to be compounded or formulated by an eye care provider, and not everybody knows how to do that.”

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