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What you need to know about pink eye

Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is the thin, transparent tissue that covers the white part of the eye (sclera) and lines the inner surface of the eyelids. This common eye condition can affect people of all ages and is characterized by various symptoms that can range from mild to severe.

Conjunctivitis symptoms

  • Redness

  • Itchiness

  • Watery discharge

  • Tearing

  • Grittiness or foreign body sensation

  • Swelling

  • Sensitivity to light

  • Crusting

  • Blurry vision

  • Discomfort or pain

  • Increased tear production


It's important to note that the specific symptoms can differ based on whether a viral infection, bacterial infection, allergies, or other factors cause pink eye. If you suspect you have pink eye or are experiencing these symptoms, it's advisable to seek advice from a St. Joseph Health primary care provider for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Types of pink eye

  • Viral conjunctivitis is caused by a virus, often the same viruses that lead to the common cold. It typically starts in one eye and can spread to the other. Viral conjunctivitis is highly contagious and can result in watery discharge, redness, and discomfort.

  • Bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria that can lead to a thick, yellow or greenish discharge, causing the eyelids to stick together upon waking. Bacterial conjunctivitis can affect one or both eyes and is contagious.

  • Allergic conjunctivitis is triggered by allergens such as pollen, pet dander, or dust mites. It results in itching, redness, and watery discharge in both eyes. Allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious.

  • Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis (GPC)—usually associated with contact lens wear—can cause itching, tearing, and lens discomfort. It is characterized by the formation of small bumps on the inner surface of the eyelids.

  • Chemical conjunctivitis is caused by exposure to irritants like chlorine, smoke, or foreign substances. Symptoms may include redness, burning, and excessive tearing.

  • Foreign body conjunctivitis occurs when a foreign object, like a piece of dirt or debris, gets trapped in the eye, leading to redness, tearing, and discomfort.

  • Newborns can develop neonatal conjunctivitis due to infection during childbirth. It can be caused by various bacteria and requires prompt medical attention.


Pink eye causes

  • Blocked tear ducts: In infants, blocked tear ducts can lead to chronic conjunctivitis. The accumulation of tears can create an environment conducive to bacterial growth.

  • Sexually transmitted infections: Certain sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, can cause conjunctivitis. These infections can be transmitted from the genitals to the eyes.

  • Autoimmune conditions: Inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or systemic lupus erythematosus can lead to conjunctivitis as part of their symptoms.


Pink eye treatment options

The treatment for pink eye, or conjunctivitis, depends on the underlying cause. Here are some general guidelines for treating pink eye:

  • Viral conjunctivitis:

    • Viral pink eye is often self-limiting and clears up on its own within a week or two.

    • Applying warm compresses to the eyes can help alleviate discomfort.

    • Over-the-counter artificial tears or lubricating eye drops may help relieve dryness and irritation.

    • Practice good hygiene, such as frequent handwashing and avoiding touching your eyes.

  • Bacterial conjunctivitis:

    • Bacterial pink eye may be treated with prescription antibiotic eye drops or ointments.

    • Follow your doctor's instructions for administering the medication and complete the full course.

    • Apply warm compresses to help reduce symptoms.

  • Allergic conjunctivitis:

    • Avoiding allergens is key. Identify and minimize exposure to triggers.

    • Over-the-counter antihistamine eye drops can help reduce itching and redness.

    • Cold compresses may provide relief from symptoms.

  • Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis (GPC):

    • GPC often requires discontinuing contact lens wear until symptoms resolve.

    • Your eye doctor may recommend medicated eye drops, such as mast cell stabilizers or antihistamines.

    • Proper contact lens hygiene is crucial to prevent recurrence.

  • Chemical conjunctivitis:

    • If caused by an irritant, thoroughly flush the eyes with clean water for about 15 minutes.

    • Seek medical attention if the irritation persists.

  • Newborn conjunctivitis:

    • Newborns with conjunctivitis caused by bacteria may be treated with antibiotic eye drops or ointments.

    • Viral or chlamydial conjunctivitis requires specific medical interventions.

  • General Tips:

    • Avoid touching your eyes with unwashed hands.

    • Wash your hands frequently, especially after applying eye drops or ointments.

    • Use a clean, warm washcloth to gently clean away any discharge from the eyes.

    • Discard eye makeup and avoid using it until the infection has cleared.


If you think you have pink eye or are experiencing severe symptoms, it's recommended to consult a St. Joseph Health primary care provider for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Pink eye prevention tips

Preventing pink eye, or conjunctivitis, involves practicing good hygiene and taking precautions to reduce the risk of infection. Here are some steps you can take to help prevent pink eye:

  • Wash your hands: Regularly wash your hands with soap and water, especially before touching your face or eyes. This helps prevent the spread of germs that can cause pink eye.

  • Avoid touching your eyes: Refrain from touching your eyes with unwashed hands, as this can introduce bacteria or viruses.

  • Practice good contact lens hygiene: If you wear contact lenses, follow proper hygiene practices, such as washing your hands before handling lenses, cleaning and disinfecting them as directed, and replacing them according to your eye care professional's recommendations.

  • Avoid sharing personal items: Do not share items like towels, washcloths, or makeup with others, as these can harbor germs that cause pink eye.

  • Clean and disinfect: Regularly clean and disinfect frequently-touched surfaces, especially in public places, to minimize the risk of exposure to pathogens.

  • Protect yourself from allergens: If you have allergic conjunctivitis, identify and avoid allergens that trigger your symptoms. Keep windows closed during high pollen seasons, use air purifiers indoors, and practice good indoor air quality.

  • Practice respiratory hygiene: Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your elbow when coughing or sneezing to prevent the spread of viruses that can cause pink eye.

  • Follow recommended guidelines: If you have a child with pink eye, follow guidelines from healthcare professionals and schools to ensure the infection does not spread to others.

  • Seek prompt treatment: If you suspect you have pink eye, seek medical attention from a St. Joseph Health primary care provider for proper diagnosis and treatment. Prompt treatment can help prevent the spread of contagious forms of pink eye.

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