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Pink Eye, Pink Eye!

Pink Eye, Pink Eye!

Pink, itchy eyes? Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is quite common and spreads very easily. Depending on the cause, pink eye sometimes requires medical treatment. My goal here today is to offer information on the symptoms of pink eye, when/if treatment should be sought, and how to prevent it. After all, if you can avoid pink eye in the first place, well, that’s obviously the preferred route!

Pink Eye Defined

In a nutshell, pink eye is defined as “an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin, clear tissue that lines the inside of the eyelid and the white part of the eyeball. This inflammation makes blood vessels more visible and gives the eye a pink or reddish color.” (definition courtesy of CDC.gov). Pink eye, as noted, is very common and spreads quickly and easily. Yet it is one of the most easily treated eye conditions in both children and adults.

eye health

A comparison of eyes in diagram form: one with Conjunctivitis or “pink eye,” the other as healthy. Image Courtesy: ifeyecare.com


Pink Eye Causes

Pink eye can be caused by a variety of different exposures and/or conditions. Listed below are the four primary causes.
Viral Conjunctivitis

  • Caused by infection of the eye with a virus
  • Can be caused by a number of different viruses, such as adenoviruses
  • Very contagious
  • Sometimes can result in large outbreaks depending on the virus
    Bacterial Conjunctivitis

  • Caused by infection of the eye with certain bacteria
  • Can be caused by Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus species, or, less commonly, Chlamydia trachomatis
  • Very contagious
  • A leading cause of children being absent from daycare or school
  • More common in kids than adults
    Allergic Conjunctivitis

  • The result of the body’s reaction to allergens, such as pollen from trees, plants, grasses, and weeds; dust mites; molds; dander from pets; medicines, or cosmetics
  • Not contagious
  • Occurs more frequently among people with other allergic conditions, such as hay fever, asthma, and eczema
  • Can occur seasonally, when allergens such as pollen counts are high
  • Can also occur year-round due to indoor allergens, such as dust mites and animal dander
  • May result, in some people, from exposure to certain drugs and cosmetics
    Conjunctivitis Caused by Irritants

  • Caused by irritation from a foreign body in the eye or contact with chemicals, fumes, smoke, or dust
  • Not contagious
  • Can occur when contact lenses are worn too long or not cleaned properly

    The Symptoms of Pink Eye

    Depending on the type of pink eye occurring in the patient, symptoms can manifest differently.

    portland optometrist

    From a “normal eye” to the three different types of pink eye…this graphic runs the spectrum. Image Courtesy: totaleyecarecenters.com


    Below, courtesy of the CDC.gov, are the common symptoms associated with each version of this malady:

    Symptoms of conjunctivitis (pink eye) can include:

  • Pink or red color in the white of the eye(s)
  • Swelling of the conjunctiva (the thin layer that lines the white part of the eye and the inside of the eyelid) and/or eyelids
  • Increased tear production
  • Feeling like a foreign body is in the eye(s) or an urge to rub the eye(s)
  • Itching, irritation, and/or burning
  • Discharge (pus or mucus)
  • Crusting of eyelids or lashes, especially in the morning
  • Contact lenses that do not stay in place on the eye and/or feel uncomfortable
  • Depending on the cause, other symptoms may occur

    Symptoms by Type of Pink Eye:
    The different types of pink eye and their most common symptoms:

    Viral Conjunctivitis

  • Can occur with symptoms of a cold, flu, or other respiratory infection
  • Usually begins in one eye and may spread to the other eye within days
  • Discharge from the eye is usually watery rather than thick
    Bacterial Conjunctivitis

  • Usually begins in one eye and sometimes spreads to the other eye
  • More commonly associated with discharge of pus, especially a yellow-green color
  • Sometimes occurs with an ear infection
    Allergic Conjunctivitis

  • Usually occurs in both eyes
  • Can produce intense itching, tearing, and swelling in the eyes
  • May occur with symptoms of allergy, such as an itchy nose, sneezing, a scratchy throat, or asthma
    Conjunctivitis Caused by Irritants

  • Can produce watery eyes and mucus discharge

    When to See a Health Care Provider

    Aside from the itchy, watery and (sometimes) painful symptoms associated with pink eye, a celebration of sorts can be had over how easy it is to treat. In fact, there even effective home remedies for pink eye, if the individual case is not too advanced. That said, there is a point where one must see a health care provider as, left untreated, pink eye can become quite a serious condition.

    Portland eyeglass shop

    When pink eye gets this red, it’s important to see a doctor. See the other conditions that should prompt official medical treatment as well. Image Courtesy: CDC.gov

    See a health care provider for pink eye when:

  • Moderate to severe pain in your eye(s)
  • Sensitivity to light or blurred vision
  • Intense redness in the eye(s)
  • A weakened immune system, for example from HIV or cancer treatment
  • Symptoms that get worse or don’t improve, including bacterial pink eye that does not improve after 24 hours of antibiotic use
  • Pre-existing eye conditions that may put you at risk for complications or severe infection

    How to Stop Pink Eye from Spreading

    Pink eye caused by bacteria or a virus is very contagious and spreads easily and quickly from person-to-person. Pink eye caused by irritants or allergens is not contagious, yet it is possible to develop a secondary infection caused by a virus or bacteria that is contagious (CDC.gov). You can lower the risk of getting or spreading pink eye by following some easy, self-care steps:

  • Wash your hands
  • Avoid touching or rubbing your eyes
  • Avoid sharing eye and face makeup, makeup brushes, contact lenses and containers, and eyeglasses
  • See conjunctivitis prevention for more information

    Pink Eye in Newborns

    Newborn babies that develop pink eye should see a healthcare provider in every case. Pink eye in newborns may be resultant of an infection, eye irritant, or a tear duct blockage. Per the CDC:

    Neonatal pink eye caused by sexually transmitted infections, like gonorrhea or chlamydia, can be very serious. If you are pregnant and think you may have a sexually transmitted infection, visit your healthcare provider for testing and treatment. If you don’t know whether you have a sexually transmitted infection but have recently given birth and your newborn shows signs of pink eye, visit your child’s healthcare provider right away.

    State law requires most hospitals to put ointment or drops into a newborn’s eyes to prevent pink eye. For more information on newborn pink eye, see conjunctivitis in newborns.

    Pink Eye in Summary

    There are many additional resources to look into when dealing with pink eye. Just remember, this condition is both easily spread and easily treated. There are simple, preventative measures to follow too, but they don’t always work. Seek medical treatment if in doubt about the severity of your (or a loved one’s) pink eye condition. Always seek medical care for pink eye in newborns or very young children.