Key Points about Pink Eye

  • Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is an inflammation of the eye marked by redness, pinkness, puffiness or itchiness.
  • Causes of conjunctivitis include viral infections, bacterial infections, or allergic reactions.
  • Treatment for conjunctivitis varies depending on its cause.  

Overview

Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is a state of eye inflammation. It is marked by redness, pinkness, puffiness or itchiness in the eye. It can be caused by a viral infection, a bacterial infection, or an allergic reaction.

Treatment for conjunctivitis will vary depending on its cause. Most cases of viral pink eye resolve on their own after a few days. Bacterial pink eye may be treated with antibiotics, and allergic pink eye can be treated with over-the-counter medications that address symptoms.

Call your doctor if your pink eye does not improve after a few days, or if you suspect it is caused by a bacterial infection.

Pink eye causes

Conjunctivitis is usually caused by one of three factors: a viral infection, a bacterial infection, or an allergic reaction. Viral pink eye is the most common type, and also the most contagious. The red or pink color in conjunctivitis is a sign of the inflammation caused by these infections or reactions.

Conjunctivitis caused by an allergy can be triggered by a reaction to environmental irritants, such as smoke, chlorine, pollen or pet dander. It can also be triggered by irritating personal care products such as eye drops or shampoos.

Pink eye risk factors

You may be at an increased risk of developing pink eye if you:

  • Have been exposed to an allergen that triggers your allergy symptoms
  • Use weekly or monthly contact lenses, rather than daily, disposable ones
  • Have been in close contact with someone who has pink eye

Pink eye symptoms

Beyond having a pinkish color, which is characteristic of all types of conjunctivitis, symptoms vary based on the type of pink eye.

With a viral infection, you may experience:

  • Itching or watering of one eye, or both eyes
  • Light sensitivity

With a bacterial infection, you may experience:

  • Itching or watering of one eye, or both eyes
  • A discharge in the corner of your eye that is yellow and sticky
  • Eyes that are stuck together in the morning, due to the discharge

With an allergic reaction, you may experience:

  • Itching, watering, or burning of both eyes
  • A stuffy or runny nose
  • Light sensitivity

Pink eye complications

In some cases, pink eye can lead to an inflamed cornea, which can impact your vision.

Pink eye diagnosis

When diagnosing pink eye, your doctor will conduct a physical examination of the eyes, review your symptoms, and provide treatment accordingly.

Pink eye treatment

Treatment for pink eye will vary based upon its cause.

For most people, viral pink eye does not require medical treatment, as it resolves on its own after several says. To alleviate symptoms, try applying a washcloth soaked in cool water to the affected eye or eyes.

Bacterial conjunctivitis is often treated with antibiotic ointments or eye drops.

Allergic conjunctivitis is treated by addressing your allergies, and by taking over-the-counter or prescription medications that can alleviate symptoms.

When to seek care

Call your doctor if you have symptoms of pink eye. While most cases are low-risk and will resolve on their own, serious cases, particularly those caused by bacteria, can be dangerous for your eye health.

Next Steps

After being diagnosed with pink eye, you should throw away any eye makeup products you used before its onset. Your doctor may also recommend that you replace reusable contact lenses and other eye accessories.

The following measures can help prevent future occurrences of conjunctivitis:

  • Avoid sharing makeup and washcloths
  • Wash hands often
  • Consider using daily contact lenses instead of weeklies or monthlies, to prevent the spread of bacteria
  • Manage your seasonal allergy symptoms
  • Remove contact lenses before showering
  • Avoid touching your eyes