COVID-19 Update


Pink Eye

What You Need to Know
Eye infected with Pink Eye
  • Pinkeye, or conjunctivitis, is an irritation or infection of the conjunctiva, the membrane that lines the inside of the eyelid and the whites of the eyes.
  • Pinkeye can be caused by bacteria, viruses, chemicals, dry eye or allergies.
  • While pinkeye can be a result of a minor infection that can resolve on its own, it can be the sign of a more serious problem.
  • Treatment of the condition will vary based on the cause.

Pinkeye Symptoms

The symptoms of pinkeye can affect one or both eyes. They vary based on the cause of the irritation or infection. Symptoms can include any or some of the following:

  • Pink or red discoloration in one or both eyes

  • Gritty feeling in one or both eyes

  • Itching, irritation and/or burning sensation in eyes

  • Clear, thin drainage and increased tearing

  • Flulike symptoms, including cough, sore throat and fatigue

  • Stringy and/or thick, green discharge from the eyes

  • Eyelids that are matted together in the morning

  • Swelling of the eyelids, which can be severe

  • Blurred vision 

Pinkeye Causes

Pinkeye has a number of causes:

  • Bacteria. Bacteria are transferred to one or both eyes through physical contact, poor hygiene (touching eyes with unclean hands), or use of contaminated makeup or face lotions.

  • Viruses. Infection results from exposure to viruses associated with the common cold, upper respiratory tract infection, and, in rarer instances, herpes and sexually transmitted diseases.

  • Chemicals. Facial or eye makeup, air pollution, chlorine in swimming pools or other toxic chemicals cause irritation or inflammation in one or both eyes.

  • Dry eyes. The eyes can become red because of chronic irritation due to inadequate tears.

  • Blepharitis. There is chronic inflammation of the eyelids.

  • Allergies/sensitivities. The eyes have an adverse reaction to allergens or irritants, such as pollen, mold, dust mites, cosmetics (even if hypoallergenic, high-end or organic), or contact lenses and solutions.

  • Uveitis. Only an eye doctor can diagnose this condition, which can lead to permanent blindness.

Pinkeye in Children and Newborns

Pinkeye is common in children and newborns.

Children: Viral pinkeye is one of the leading causes of school absence in children, with large outbreaks often seen in day cares and schools.

Newborns: Though rare, some newborns can get pinkeye through a sexually transmitted disease, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea that is passed on during childbirth.

Treatment will be determined by your health care provider based on the cause of the infection, the age of the child, and how well they can handle specific medications or therapies.

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Pinkeye Diagnosis

Pinkeye is usually diagnosed based on patient history and a comprehensive examination of the eye, including evaluation of the conjunctiva and the external and internal eye tissue. Cultures of the eye drainage are not required except in unusual circumstances — for example, unusual amount of drainage, pus or corneal involvement. Only an eye specialist can diagnose what is causing the pinkeye, so it is important that you be seen by an eye doctor for your condition.

Pinkeye Treatment

Treatment for pinkeye is determined by its cause, patient history and the overall condition of the eye. Treatment can include:

  • Antibiotic or steroid drops or ointments for the eye (there is no antibiotic drop or pill to treat viral pinkeye)

  • Allergy drops for the eye

  • Antibiotic pills

  • Artificial tears

Pinkeye Complications

  • Viral pinkeye usually does not have long-term complications. Rarely, the cornea can be involved and can lead to permanent vision problems. However, there is no treatment for viral pinkeye. You should see an ophthalmologist if your pinkeye does not resolve or gets worse after a week.

Preventing the Spread of Pinkeye

Pinkeye can be contagious as long as there is continued drainage from the eye. The virus can survive on table surfaces for up to two weeks. To prevent the spread of infection:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently. If you do not have access to a sink, use hand sanitizer.

  • Avoid touching your eyes with your hands. Do not rub your eyes; do not “fish” inside your lower eyelids to pull out mucus, even if you feel there is mucus there.

  • Change pillowcases often, do not share eye makeup or personal eye care products, and do not reuse tissues or hand towels on your face.

  • Follow your eye doctor’s instructions on proper contact lens care.

When should I call my health care provider?

If the symptoms get worse or new symptoms arise, see an ophthalmologist.  

Next Steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.

  • At the visit, write down the names of new medicines or treatments, and any new instructions your provider gives you.

  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time and purpose for that visit.

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