Everything You Need to Know About Pink Eye

You rub your eyes. They feel tender to the touch. After several minutes of itching, they begin to water. You look in the mirror, only to see your eyes have become red and swollen. You fear the worst—is it pink eye?

What Causes Pink Eye?

There are several different types of pink eye, all of which have their own causes.


Viral Conjunctivitis
Viral conjunctivitis is one of the most common strains of pink eye because it can result from a wide variety of viruses. If a virus, such as the common cold, comes in contact with your eye, it will lead to inflammation. Although common, this is the least serious strain of pink eye.


Bacterial Conjunctivitis
Similar to viral conjunctivitis, bacterial conjunctivitis can stem from any kind of bacteria that comes in contact with the eye. Bacterial conjunctivitis tends to be fairly serious. If untreated, this strain of pink eye can lead to permanent eye damage.


Allergic Conjunctivitis
As the least common pink eye strain, allergic conjunctivitis tends to be seasonable. It also generally only affects people with sensitivities to pollen, dust, and animal dander. Unlike viral and bacterial conjunctivitis, this strain of pink of is not contagious.


How Do I Recognize Pink Eye?
True to its name, the most easily recognizable symptom of pink eye is a pink appearance. But because eyes can become pink or red for other reasons, you’ll need to be on the lookout for several other symptoms of pink eye.


Viral Conjunctivitis
Viral conjunctivitis can affect one or both eyes. In any case, it often manifests the following symptoms:

  • Itchiness
  • Clear, watery discharge from eyes
  • Light sensitivity


Bacterial Conjunctivitis
Because it is highly contagious, bacterial conjunctivitis often starts in one eye and spreads to the other. Its most common symptoms include:

  • Severe redness and bloodshot appearance
  • Swelling
  • Sticky yellow or green discharge from eyes (this discharge may cause eyelids to stick together)

Allergic Conjunctivitis
Allergic conjunctivitis most often affects both eyes. In addition to redness, someone with allergic conjunctivitis will experience:

  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Light sensitivity
  • Stuffy, runny nose
  • Scratchy, dry throat

When Should I Call an Optometrist?
As mentioned above, most pink eye cases are mild and resolve themselves without treatment. However, some cases can progress, become severe, and pose a threat to your long-term vision.


If you have pink eye, you should contact an optometrist if/when you experience:

  • Blurred vision
  • Intense pain and tenderness
  • Severe redness that covers the entire eye
  • Symptoms that worsen after 24 hours of antibiotic use

You should also contact an optometrist if you have a preexisting eye condition, such as as cataracts, or a weakened immune system from another healthcare treatment. Pink eye increases your risk of severe complications and infections and requires special medication in these cases.


How Is Pink Eye Treated?
Just like the causes and symptoms of pink eye vary depending on which type you have, so do treatment methods.


Viral Conjunctivitis
Viral conjunctivitis most often runs it course over a 3–4 day period, and it generally doesn’t require medication.


If you want to alleviate pink eye’s symptoms, apply a cold, wet washcloth to your eye several times a day. Be sure to wash the washcloth as soon as you finish using it to prevent the infection from spreading.


Bacterial Conjunctivitis
Antibiotics are the best treatment for bacterial conjunctivitis. Talk to your optometrist about prescribing an antibiotic ointment or eye drops to alleviate your symptoms and keep the infection from spreading. You can also apply a warm compress to your eye to relieve eye irritation and remove sticky eye discharge.


Allergic Conjunctivitis
The most effective way to treat allergic conjunctivitis is to remove the allergen causing the eye irritation. If this isn’t possible, you should take allergy medications and use eye drops to relieve your symptoms. For best results, use a combination of antihistamine and vasoconstrictor eye drops.


How Can I Prevent Pink Eye in the Future?
No matter what kind of pink eye you contract, you can take steps to prevent the condition in the future. Simply follow these seven steps to keep pink eye at bay.


  1. Cover your nose and mouth any time you sneeze or cough.
  2. Wash your hands frequently, especially when you’re in public places or after you rub your eyes.
  3. Keep hand sanitizer close by at all times, especially if you work around children or animals.
  4. Never share tissues, washcloths, or hand towels with other people, including family members.
  5. Never share contact lenses, including non-prescription special effect lenses.
  6. Clean countertops, faucet handles, phones, and other shared surfaces with a disinfectant on a daily basis.
  7. Wear goggles when you swim to protect your eyes from bacteria and microorganisms in the water.

Contact your optometrist right away if your pink eye becomes severe. Pink eye is generally nothing to fear, but you should take steps to keep it from spreading to other people.

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