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What Is Pink Eye?

Pink eye is a term used to describe a group of diseases also known as conjunctivitis that cause redness and irritation. The conjunctiva is the protective membrane lining the eyelids and covering the sclera (white of the eye).


Why Choose Moran Eye Center?

The Moran Eye Center offers accessible, nationally ranked care for our patients. Our team of ophthalmologists (eye doctors) provides comprehensive eye care at multiple locations to best suit your needs. As the only academic ophthalmologic institution in the state, we have a strong reputation of trust and service across all ages and many levels of care. Our specialists have the expertise and equipment to treat any eye condition, from minor irritation to more advanced eye disease.

Vignette: What is Pink Eye

Bacterial vs. Viral Pink Eye

What Bacteria Causes Pink Eye?

Pink eye is usually a viral infection (viral conjunctivitis) caused by a cold virus. However, pink eye from bacteria (bacterial conjunctivitis) is most commonly caused by exposure to staphylococcal or streptococcal bacteria from your own skin or respiratory system. Your ophthalmologist will conduct an exam to determine the type of pink eye you have and recommend proper treatment.

Allergies vs. Pink Eye

Allergic conjunctivitis (allergy-related pink eye) is common among people who suffer from allergic reactions to:

  • pollen, 
  • animal dander, 
  • dust,
  • chemicals, 
  • makeup, 
  • contact lens solution, or 
  • eye drops. 

Allergic conjunctivitis may be accompanied by watery discharge from the eye. Unlike viral and bacterial pink conjunctivitis, allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious and always affects both eyes.

Pink Eye Symptoms

Your conjunctivitis symptoms may vary depending on the cause and severity, such as

  • sticky matting or crusting over your eye after waking;
  •  feeling like something is in your eye; or
  •  intense itching due to allergies.

Does Pink Eye Hurt?

Conjunctivitis is not usually painful, however, your eye or eyes may feel sore or uncomfortable. If you experience intense pain, see your ophthalmologist right away. 

What Does Pink Eye Look Like?

Conjunctivitis appears as increased redness (pink) in the white part of the eye. Visible clear, watery, or mucus-like discharge may also be present. Other visible marks or discoloration in your eyes may be a sign of more serious disease and should be examined as soon as possible.

pink eye

Is Pink Eye Contagious?

Viral conjunctivitis is highly contagious. Viral conjunctivitis usually starts in one eye then spreads to the other. Avoid spreading pink eye by practicing good hygiene such as washing hands, disinfecting high-touch surfaces (e.g. doorknobs or countertops), and not sharing personal items, such as utensils, clothes, or towels. 

How Long Is Pink Eye Contagious?

Conjunctivitis is contagious while the eye is red (typically five to seven days). It is no longer contagious once redness or other symptoms have resolved.

When to See a Doctor for Pink Eye

If your symptoms are mild, you may try home treatment or visit with your primary care physician. If your symptoms do not improve in one to two weeks, we recommend seeing one of our ophthalmologists. If symptoms are severe, see an ophthalmologist within one to two days. 

Our ophthalmologists will evaluate your symptoms, provide a diagnosis, and recommend proper treatment. We may also suggest further testing to determine the type of pink eye you have or rule out other diseases of the eye. 

Conjunctivitis is usually painless and does not affect vision. See an eye care specialist immediately if you experience intense pain, light sensitivity, or decrease in vision.

Find an Ophthalmologist

Pink Eye Treatment

Treatment for conjunctivitis focuses on relieving uncomfortable symptoms. Your treatment may vary depending on the type of conjunctivitis you have. 

One of our ophthalmologists may recommend:

  •  using artificial tears;
  •  applying cold or warm compresses (wet or dry) to your eye several times a day; 
  •  taking a break from wearing contact lenses;
  •  antibiotics for bacterial pink eye (e.g. eye drops, oral medication, or cream); or
  •  antihistamines or other allergy care for allergic conjunctivitis.

How Long Does Pink Eye Last?

Most cases of conjunctivitis resolve within one to two weeks.

Woman putting in eyedrops.

Pink Eye Home Remedies

If your symptoms are mild, you may want to try one of the following remedies to reduce your discomfort at home before seeing a doctor.

  •  Apply a cool or warm compress to your eyes. Soak a clean cloth in water and wring it out before gently applying it to closed eyelids. Avoid touching both eyes with the same cloth to reduce the chance of spreading the infection from one eye to the other. 
  •  Use over-the-counter artificial tear eyedrops. Antihistamine eyedrops helpful if you suffer from allergic pinkeye. Avoid other redness-reducing eye drops not specifically labeled as artificial tears. These will not help clear or treat pink eye. 
  •  Reduce or stop wearing contact lenses until your pink eye goes away.

Schedule an Appointment

If you are suffering from conjunctivitis or have other eye care concerns, contact our Ophthalmology Clinic at 801-581-2352 to schedule an appointment. 

Referrals are welcome, but not necessary. Please check with your insurance provider before scheduling a routine exam. Many insurance plans will cover your visit if there is a medical eye problem but may not allow for routine or non-specialty care eye exams.

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