Pink eye (conjunctivitis) describes when the outer membrane of your eyeball becomes inflamed. The blood vessels beneath this layer become swollen, making the white of your eye pink or red. Although pink eye is caused by viruses about 80% of the time, it can also be caused by bacteria or less often, allergies. Pink eye caused by viruses is very contagious and easily spread, especially by school-aged children.


What are the symptoms of pink eye?

Because of the visual nature of pink eye, the symptoms are usually simple to spot:

  • Pinkish or reddish hue of the white part of the eye
  • Excess tear production (“watering”)
  • Discharge of thick mucous
  • An itching or burning sensation
  • Feeling like something is stuck in your eye
  • Swelling of the tissue overlying the white part of the eye or of the eyelids

How is Pink Eye Diagnosed?

In most cases, pink eye is identified solely on symptoms and physical examination.  Rarely, in less obvious or more complicated cases, a culture can be obtained.

How is pink eye treated?

Treatment will vary depending on the cause:

  • Viral conjunctivitis – In nearly all cases, viral infections of the eye will clear up on their own without medical intervention in a few days.
  • Bacterial conjunctivitis – Although most pink eye cases caused by bacteria also clear up on their own, more severe cases require antibiotics, usually in the form of eye drops. It is best to talk to your doctor to form a treatment plan.
  • Allergic conjunctivitis – Pink eye caused by allergies can be healed by avoiding the allergen that caused the infection. Allergy medicine and prescription eye drops can help with discomfort.

Contact lens wearers should discontinue wearing their lenses until seen by a doctor since rarely, contact lenses can introduce a dangerous type of bacteria in the eye that should lead to antibiotics and replacement of the contact lenses.

How to know if it’s Viral, Bacterial, or Allergic?

Viral – More mild symptoms and more likely to involve both eyes.  Discharge is scant and not as thick as in bacterial cases.  Less likely to have the eyelids completely matted shut in the morning.  Pinkness is typical rather than darker redness.

Bacterial – More severe symptoms and usually at least starts with one eye.  Discharge is more voluminous, thicker and more likely to cause crusting shut of the eye in the morning.  The pinkness/redness is darker.

Allergic – Usually accompanies other allergic symptoms like nasal drip, nasal itching, and sneezing.  More itching than the infectious causes and rarely causes thick discharge or crusting of the eye and almost always involves both eyes simultaneously.  Usually occurs during the time of year a person’s allergen is present. 

How to prevent pink eye?

Pink eye can be avoided by following these recommendations:

  • Wash your hands on a regular basis.
  • Don’t touch your eyes especially if you suspect you have pink eye as this can spread the infection.
  • Don’t wear contact lenses if you suspect you have pink eye, and ensure you properly clean and store them after use.
  • Don’t share items such as eyeglasses or makeup.
  • Wash your pillowcases and bed sheets regularly.
  • Avoid those with pink eye as it is highly contagious.
  • Use HEPA filters in your home or office to reduce the amount of allergen in the air if you suspect an allergy

When pink eye is an emergency

Although pink eye is rarely an emergency, severe pain and discomfort could warrant a trip to the emergency room. If symptoms don’t go away after a week and you are experiencing constant pain and irritation, consider giving us a call so we can get you treated by our world-class team of medical professionals.