Back in the days when I was a student in elementary school, there were few things that sparked fear in my classmates and me than when we heard of a friend who had pink eye, which for us was tantamount to having the plague. Granted, a lot of our anxiety was based in ignorance, but something about the fact that the condition was so prominently visible and in most instances, highly contagious, that made us worry to no end.

The fact is that while pink eye is not life threatening, it can lead to irritation and blurred vision. In the case of viral pink eye, known as viral keratoconjunctivitis, individuals must often be isolated for up to two weeks in order to prevent the spread of the infection. Furthermore, the virus can survive on a surface for up to 30 days, and there is no effective treatment.

Now, however, relief may be in sight (no pun intended). Using a special animal model, researchers have discovered how the virus responsible for viral pink eye (human adenovirus) leads to inflammation in the eye, and the information may help lead to more effective way to treat pink eye and hopefully prevent its spread.

According to the findings, published in the journal PLoS Pathogens, it is neither the viral DNA nor the actual expression of that DNA that causes the eye to be inflamed, but rather the protein coat that houses the virus. This inflammation is what leads to discharge from the eye and consequently, transmission and spread.

Researchers were able to uncover this process by observing the role that different viral components play in inducing the body’s immune response. Scientists were then able to block virus associated inflammation in the cornea by treating the eye with protein components of the virus protein.

While more work needs to be done, the study is a first step towards developing a therapy to help treat and alleviate the problem of viral pink eye.

Pink eye, also referred to as conjunctivitis, is a general expression to describe inflammation of the eye, specifically in the conjunctiva, that can be caused by either a allergies, chemicals, bacteria, or a virus. The conjunctiva is the clear mucous membrane that lines the surface of the eye and the eyelid. When irritation or infection occurs, the lining becomes red and swollen.

Symptoms include:

  • redness of the eyes
  • swelling>
  • excessive tear formation
  • the sensation of an object in the eye
  • itching or burning
  • secretion from the eyes
  • light sensitivity

Pink eye is very common, and usually lasts between 7 and 10 days, though it can go for as long as two weeks. Viral and bacterial pink eye are extremely contagious, so affected individuals should refrain from contact with other people. Measures to prevent the spread of pink eye are similar to the ones used to prevent the spread of flu.

In the case of viral pink eye, which is the most common form, there is no treatment, so prevention is the key.

If you suspect that your child has pink eye, contact your pediatrician and keep them at home. For more information about pink eye, and visit the website for Kid’s Health and read Linsey Knerl’s informative post about the condition on this site.