Posted October 25, 2022 by Anusha ‐ 3 min read

Pink eye is a common eye infection that causes inflammation of the tissues lining the eyelid (conjunctiva). It’s caused by allergens, irritants, bacteria and viruses, such as coronaviruses that cause the common cold or COVID-19. Treatment depends on the specific cause and includes eye drops, ointments, pills, water flushes and comfort care.

What is pink eye or conjunctivitis?

  • Pink eye is an inflammation (redness) of the conjunctiva, the clear tissue that lines the inside surface of your eyelid and outer coating of your eye.

  • This tissue helps keep your eyelid and eyeball moist.

  • You can get pink eye from viruses, bacteria, allergens and other causes.

  • The medical name for pink eye is conjunctivitis. You can get pink eye in one or both eyes.

What are the symptoms of pink eye?

Symptoms of pink eye include:

  • Redness in the white of your eye or inner eyelid.

  • Increased tearing.

  • Thick yellow discharge that crusts over your eyelashes, especially after sleep.

  • Green or white discharge from your eye.

  • Gritty feeling in one or both eyes.

  • Itchy eyes (especially in pink eye caused by allergies).

  • Burning eyes (especially in pink eye caused by chemicals and irritants).

  • Blurred vision.

  • Increased sensitivity to light.

  • Swollen eyelids.

What causes pink eye?

The pink or reddish color of pink eye happens when the blood vessels in the membrane covering your eye (the conjunctiva) gets inflamed, making them more visible. Causes of inflammation include:

  • Viruses - Viruses are the most common cause of pink eye. Coronaviruses, such as the common cold or COVID-19, are among the viruses that can cause pink eye.

  • Bacteria - Common types of bacteria that cause bacterial conjunctivitis include Staphylococcus aureus, Haemophilus influenzae, Streptococcus pneumonia and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

  • Allergens - This includes molds, pollen or other substances that cause allergies.

  • Irritating substances - This includes shampoos, cosmetics, contact lenses, dirt, smoke and pool chlorine.

  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) - A virus (herpes simplex) or bacteria (gonorrhea or chlamydia) can cause STIs. STIs can cause pink eye in both adults and newborns.

  • Autoimmune conditions - Diseases that cause your own immune system to overreact are a rare cause of pink eye.

What tests will be done to diagnose pink eye?

  • While not common, if your provider thinks bacteria is causing pink eye or if the infection is severe, they may want to do testing.

  • They’ll use a soft-tipped stick (swab) to collect secretions from around your eye, then send the sample to a lab.

  • The lab will run tests to find out what’s causing your pink eye.

How is pink eye treated?

Treatment of pink eye depends on whether it’s caused by bacteria, a virus, an allergen or something else.

Treatment for pink eye caused by bacteria

  • If bacteria are causing your pink eye, your provider will give you a prescription for antibiotics (eye drops, ointments or pills).

  • If it’s tricky to put ointment in your eye or your child’s eye, don’t worry.

  • If the ointment gets as far as the eyelashes, it will most likely melt into the eye.

Treatment for pink eye caused by viruses

  • Pink eye caused by a virus doesn’t need treatment unless it’s caused by herpes simplex virus, varicella-zoster virus (chickenpox/shingles) or a sexually transmitted infection.

  • These are serious infections that require antiviral medications.

  • If not treated, they could scar your eye or cause vision loss.

  • Antibiotics can’t treat pink eye caused by a virus.

Treatment for pink eye caused by irritating substances

If something gets into your eyes and irritates them, rinse your eyes with a gentle stream of warm water for five minutes. Avoid further exposure to the irritating substances.

Treatment for pink eye caused by allergies

  • Allergic conjunctivitis is treated with prescription or over-the-counter eye drops.

  • These contain either antihistamines to control allergic reactions or anti-inflammatory drugs such as steroids or decongestants.

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