What is Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis)

Pink eye (also called conjunctivitis) occurs when the clear mucous membrane lining the eyelid and eye surface becomes red and swollen due to irritation or infection. Minor cases may improve within 7 to 10 days, however, some can develop into serious corneal inflammation and threaten sight. If you believe you may have contracted conjunctivitis, visit your optometrist for an examination and treatment.

The term “pink eye” generally refers the highly contagious viral and bacterial variants. However, a non-contagious type of conjunctivitis can be brought on by other conditions, such as an allergic reaction or a condition known as giant papillary conjunctivitis (GPC).

Pink eye can affect both children and adults. Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis can spread quickly in environments with several people in close proximity to each other. Thankfully, it is easily treated and can be prevented. Pink eye is usually only considered serious if you have an impaired immune system condition that decreases your body’s ability to fight infection, have vision in only one eye, or wear contact lenses.

Pink Eye Symptoms

Depending on the type of conjunctivitis contracted, you may experience some (or all) of the following symptoms in one or both eyes:

    • Pink or reddish appearance to the eye and surrounding area
    • Yellow or green mucous discharge
    • Watery, itchy eyes
    • Sensitivity to light and pain

Viral Pink Eye Symptoms

    • Watery eyes
    • Clear or slightly thick whitish drainage
    • Itching or burning sensation in the eyes and eyelids
    • Sensitivity to light
    • Redness to the white of the eye
    • Swelling of the eyelids
    • Swollen and tender areas in front of the ears
    • Viral symptoms usually last 5 to 7 days

Bacterial Pink Eye Symptoms

    • thick, sticky, sometimes greenish discharge that can cause the eyelids and lashes to stick together
    • redness in the white of the eye
    • mild pain
    • swollen eyelids

Allergic Pink Eye Symptoms

    • Affects both eyes
    • Itching/burning and redness of the eye and surrounding area
    • Watery eyes
    • Light sensitivity
    • Runny, stuffy nose

Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis (GPC) Symptoms

    • Affects both eyes
    • Causes contact lens intolerance
    • Watery, itchy eyes
    • Heavy discharge
    • Red bumps inside of the eyelids

Pink Eye Causes

The cause behind a case of conjunctivitis will vary depending on the type contracted. The most commonly reported causes include:

  • Infections caused by viruses or bacteria
  • Dry eyes due to reduced tear production or over-exposure to wind or sun
  • Exposure to irritants such as chemicals or smoke
  • Allergies

Viral Pink Eye Causes

This is the most common type of conjunctivitis and is triggered by a common respiratory virus known as an adenovirus. It is often accompanied by a sore throat or upper respiratory tract infection. It can be quickly spread through coughing and sneezing. In rare cases, the herpes virus has been known to cause conjunctivitis.

Bacterial Pink Eye Causes

Bacterial pink eye is easily spread through direct contact with infected hands or objects. It is the most dangerous type of conjunctivitis. If the bacterial infection is not treated by an eye care professional, serious damage can occur to the eye.

Allergic Pink Eye Causes

Allergic Conjunctivitis is triggered by an allergic reaction to dust, pollen, pet dander, smoke, chemical fumes, or similar irritants.

Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis Causes

GPC is generally related to the presence of a foreign object in the eye, typically a contact lens.

Treatments for Pink Eye

After examining your eyes and possibly collecting a sample swab to send out for analysis, your eye doctor will be able to determine the cause behind a case of pink eye and choose the appropriate treatment. An astringent may be prescribed to keep your eyes clean and prevent a bacterial infection from beginning. Artificial tears can also helpful for alleviating discomfort. It is important to visit your eye doctor before using any left-over medications from previous eye problems. If you wear contact lenses, switch to your eyeglasses until your eyes can be examined. To avoid spreading conjunctivitis, a child diagnosed with pink eye should be kept home from school for a few days.

Viral Pink Eye Treatment

Viral pink eye is generally not treated with medicine. In rare cases when conjunctivitis is caused by the herpes virus, your doctor may choose to treat it with an antiviral medicine. Home treatments, such as a cold wet washcloth or artificial tears, are usually sufficient to relieve discomfort. Typically a person can return to normal activity when symptoms begin to improve (3 to 5 days).

Bacterial Pink Eye Treatment

Your eye doctor will most likely prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointments to eliminate bacterial conjunctivitis. If the infection originated elsewhere in the body, your doctor may prescribe antibiotic tablets. Bacterial infections usually last 7 to 10 days without antibiotic treatment and 2 to 4 days with antibiotic treatment. If symptoms have improved, a person can return to normal activity 24 hours after an antibiotic treatment has been started.

Allergic Pink Eye Treatment

Allergic conjunctivitis symptoms can be controlled with antihistamine allergy pills or eye drops. Relief from discomfort can be found through the use of artificial tears. Artificial tears are also important for protecting the eye’s surface from allergens.

Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis (GPC) Treatment

If you are a contact lens wearer, you will need to temporarily stop wearing them. Your eye doctor may recommend switching to another type of contact lens to reduce the recurrence of conjunctivitis. Your doctor may also prescribe eye drops to reduce inflammation and itching.

Preventing Pink Eye

The following tips can significantly reduce the possibility of a pink eye outbreak in crowded environments:

  • Frequent hand washing with soap
  • Do not share personal items such as washcloths or hand towels
  • Encourage children to use tissues and cover their mouths when they sneeze or cough
  • Avoid eye rubbing and touching
  • Wipe surfaces such as toys, tables, drinking fountains, sink/faucet handles, etc. with antiseptic and/or antibacterial solutions
  • Close windows and doors on days when airborne pollen count is high
  • Dust and vacuum frequently
  • Avoid exposure to smoke or chemical fumes
  • Discard any makeup you used while having the infection