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Pink eye? Go to school, work

FAIRMONT — The decades-old treatment for pink eye, including use of antibiotic drops and staying home from school or work, has been revised.

“According to the Minnesota Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control, pink eye is no more contagious than the common cold,” said Dr. Tim Slama, a family practitioner at Mayo Clinic Health System in Fairmont. “It should take care of itself. Your body should be able to fight it off just like any other viral illness.”

Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, appears as a redness or swelling of the eye or inside the eyelid. The eye may have a discharge and become irritated and watery.

Previously, a person or parent calling into the clinic and describing pink eye symptoms to a nurse could get antibiotic drops prescribed over the phone without a clinic visit.

“Our (Mayo) policy recently changed. We are not doing that anymore because most cases of pink eye are actually viral. With a virus, the typical antibiotic eye drops won’t help, and we are trying to avoid the overuse and misuse of antibiotics,” Slama said.

“The best thing to practice is good hygiene. Wash your hands often. Use hand sanitizer. Try not to touch your eyes. Don’t reuse wash clothes,” he said. “This is the same type of prevention you would use with a common cold.”

The change in the CDC stance on pink eye has a broad impact. Not only is the cost of a prescription or office call eliminated, but it no longer is necessary to miss school or work, as was the past practice.

“That’s one of the things we want to stress,” Slama said. “You don’t need to miss work, don’t need to miss school, don’t need to be held out of child care. That’s a huge change for parents, for employers, for school guidelines as well.”

“During the winter, every kid is going to get a couple of cases of runny nose or a cough. You can’t keep them home from child care or school for every runny nose or cough even if it is contagious. We can’t keep everybody home from work or everybody home from school,” he said.

Both viral or bacterial conjunctivitis are contagious, but your body usually will heal viral cases of pink eye in about a week without requiring a clinic visit or any prescription eye drops.

“However, there can be bacterial cases. That’s always important to keep in mind,” Slama said. “Most cases are viral and should clear up on their own in about a week. If not, go to the doctor.”

People also should see their health care provider if there is moderate to severe eye pain, sensitivity to light, blurred vision, pre-existing health issues or infants or newborns with symptoms.

“Then it might be something else, and we should definitely evaluate it,” Slama said.

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