Pink eye is a very common eye problem, especially in children. But with proper management, it rarely causes long-term vision damage.
Common Questions & Answers
Signs and Symptoms of Pink Eye
- Pink or red discoloration in the white of one or both eyes
- Pain in one or both eyes that can include itching, burning, or a gritty feeling
- Watery or gritty discharge from one or both eyes that may cause your eyelids to be stuck together when you wake up in the morning
- Swollen eyelids
- Excessive tearing
- Sensitivity to bright light
Causes and Risk Factors of Pink Eye
There are several types of conjunctivitis, each with a different cause. These include:
This type is caused by a bacterial or, more commonly, viral infection. It spreads rapidly from person to person.
Staphylococcal or streptococcal bacteria usually cause bacterial conjunctivitis. Infection can be spread through person-to-person contact, hand-to-eye contact, or eye contact with a contaminated object such as makeup or contact lenses.
This type tends to happen in people who normally get allergies and occurs when the eyes are exposed to a trigger or allergen that causes an allergic reaction.
The most common form of allergic conjunctivitis is seasonal. It’s triggered by mold spores or pollen from flowering trees, grass, and weeds.
Irritant or Chemical Conjunctivitis
How Is Pink Eye Diagnosed?
A doctor or eye care professional can usually diagnose conjunctivitis — and which type you have — through an eye exam.
During an exam, your doctor may ask if you have experienced symptoms such as:
- Discharge from the eye
- Blurred vision
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Moderate to severe eye pain
- Intense redness in the eye
- Sensitivity to light or blurred vision, even once any discharge is wiped away
- A weakened immune system, such as from HIV or cancer treatment
Is It Conjunctivitis or Something Else?
Many of the symptoms associated with pink eye overlap with other eye conditions.
Getting your eyes checked and being properly diagnosed is the key to getting the treatment that you need as soon as possible.
Duration of Pink Eye
Treatment and Medication Options for Pink Eye
The treatment you need for conjunctivitis depends on what caused it.
Treatment for Bacterial Conjunctivitis
Treatment for Viral Conjunctivitis
No treatment exists for the viral infection. It will have to run its course, which can take about two to three weeks.
Treatment for Allergic Conjunctivitis
As with any allergic reaction, removal and avoidance of allergens is the first step in treatment.
Treatment for Irritant Conjunctivitis
Are There Home Remedies for Pink Eye?
Eyedrops?Over-the-counter lubricant drops known as artificial tears are often used to soothe eye irritation and redness. They can also help with the dryness that can be caused by chronic conjunctivitis. If your conjunctivitis is related to allergies, antihistamine eye drops can reduce itching or redness and relieve watery eyes.
Prevention of Pink Eye
To prevent allergic or irritant pink eye, you'll need to figure out what is triggering the conjunctivitis, and either remove it or avoid it.
- Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly.
- Avoid hand-to-eye contact.
- Change your pillowcases often.
- Wash linens and towels in hot water and detergent.
- Never share eye cosmetics or personal eye-care items.
- Never use the same eye-drop dispenser for an infected and a noninfected eye.
- Keep eyeglasses clean.
- Wash your hands often with soap and warm water and wash them especially after cleaning, or applying eye drops or ointment to, your infected eye.
- Avoid touching your eyes.
- Wash discharge from around your eyes a few times a day using a clean, wet washcloth or fresh cotton ball. Dispose of the cotton balls and wash used washcloths with hot water and detergent. Make sure to then wash your hands again with soap and warm water.
- Don’t use the same eye drop dispenser or bottle for your infected and noninfected eyes.
- Wash linens and towels often in hot water and detergent.
- Don’t wear contacts lenses until your eye doctor gives you the okay.
- Clean your glasses.
- Don’t share pillows, washcloths, towels, eye drops, eye or face makeup, makeup brushes, contact lenses, or glasses.
- Don’t use swimming pools.
- Dispose of any makeup used while your eyes were infected.
- Get rid of disposable contact lenses and lens solutions that you used when you had pink eye.
- Clean extended-wear contact lenses and eyeglasses that you used while you were infected.
Complications of Pink Eye
Research and Statistics: Who Gets Pink Eye?
Viral conjunctivitis accounts for up to 80 percent of all acute infectious cases of pink eye. Bacterial conjunctivitis, however, is the most common cause in children.
Allergic conjunctivitis affects up to 40 percent of the population, most frequently occurring in spring and summer months.
Related Conditions and Causes of Pink Eye
Conjunctivitis has been associated with certain conditions, including psoriatic disease, the removal of enlarged adenoids, and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis are autoimmune disorders in which the body’s immune system attacks healthy cells and tissues. Though they are most commonly associated with skin and joint pain, these conditions can affect other parts of the body.
When a psoriasis flare-up occurs around the eyes, the eyelids and eyelashes become red and crusty and covered in scales. Further irritation can occur when the rims of the eyelids turn down and the lashes rub against the eyeballs.
Adenoid Removal (Adenoidectomy)
Adenoid glands at the back of the nasal passage help prevent bacteria and viruses from entering the body through the nose. If they become too large, they can cause sinus or breathing problems and may require removal.
Sexually Transmitted Infections
Resources We Love
Favorite Organizations for Essential Pink Eye Info
Learn the fundamentals of pink eye from the professional medical association of ophthalmologists (medical doctors who specialize in eye care). The site displays some visual examples of conjunctivitis, as well as quick home remedies.
The AOA looks at the essential aspects of pink eye, including causes, diagnosis, and treatment. Because good hygiene is one of the best ways to control conjunctivitis, the association instructs readers on best practices to prevent this inflammation.
The College of Optometrists highlights guidelines on the diagnosis and management on a type of conjunctivitis that occurs in newborns within the first month of life. The cause is a sexually transmitted disease in a parent. The site discusses diagnosis, prevention, and treatment.
The CDC gives in-depth information about causes, treatments, and the different types of pink eye, including viral, bacterial, and allergic conjunctivitis. The site features a podcast by a pediatrician who specializes in the condition.
A digital extension from the American Academy of Pediatrics, this group answers parents’ health questions regarding kids of all ages, including inquiries concerning conjunctivitis. For example: “Do I need to keep my son home if he has pink eye?”
Part of the National Institutes of Health, the NEI lays out the facts about pink eye, telling you how to recognize it, take care of it, and avoid getting it altogether. You can also search for news, events, and latest research on the topic.
Favorite Organizations for Related Pink Eye Info
ABIMF supports the Choosing Wisely initiative to promote conversations between clinicians and patients. The site addresses several eye-heath subjects, such as conjunctivitis. The website explains when antibiotics are and aren’t needed for pink eye.
Because measles has been making a comeback recently among unvaccinated children and pink eye can be a symptom of measles, it’s helpful to know other symptoms of measles and how to identify the potentially life-threatening disease. The Measles and Rubella Initiative describes the serious health consequences from measles and why vaccination is so important.
Additional reporting by Shira Feder.
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
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- Byars SG, Stearns SC, Boomsma JJ. Association of Long-Term Risk of Respiratory, Allergic, and Infectious Diseases With Removal of Adenoids and Tonsils in Childhood. JAMA Otolaryngology. July 2018.
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- Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye): For Clinicians. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. January 4, 2019.