What is Pink Eye?

All pink eye is not the same. The inflammation of the transparent covering of the white of the eye and the inside of the eyelids is medically known as conjunctivitis, but it can be caused by a virus, a bacterial infection, or an allergy. The proper treatment for pink eye depends on the cause.

Viral Pink Eye

This type of pink eye is caused by a virus and it often occurs along with the common cold. It is highly contagious, but will usually clear up on its own, the same way a cold clears up on its own.

The symptoms are red, watery, itchy eyes that are sensitive to light. One or both eyes can be affected. There is no treatment for viral pink eye. This type can last from 1 to 2 weeks.

You can relieve symptoms by applying a cold, wet washcloth to the eyes several times a day but don’t reuse the same washcloth over and over. Wash it in hot soapy water after use.

People who wear contacts should stop wearing them as soon as symptoms begin and alert their eye doctor.

Bacterial Causes

These cases are caused by bacteria and can cause serious damage to the eye if left untreated.

The symptoms of bacterial causes are red, watery, itchy eyes, and a sticky, yellow or greenish-yellow eye discharge in the corner of the eye. The discharge can cause the eyelids to be stuck together after sleeping. This type of pink eye is treated with antibiotic eye drops or ointments.

Bacterial and viral causes of pink eye are very contagious so take precautions to avoid spreading to the other eye or to other people (see below).

Allergic Pink Eye

Allergies usually affect both eyes and is caused by an allergy and it will continue as long as you are in contact with the allergen causing it. Allergic pink eye will cause itching, excessive tearing, and inflammation.

Allergic pink eye is not contagious, so you can go to school or work and no one else will catch it. To relieve the symptoms, use allergy eye drops or take allergy medication and use over-the-counter lubricating eye drops. A cool damp washcloth over your eyes will also help relieve symptoms.

Pink and Red Eyes

This is not an exhaustive list of all causes of pink or red eyes. There are some eye conditions which cause redness of the eye where immediate eye care may be necessary.

If you have concerns about your vision, pain or the color of your eye, we recommend you call your eye doctor.