Pink, itchy eyes? Pink eye – or conjunctivitis – is common and spreads easily. It sometimes needs medical treatment, depending on the cause. Know the symptoms, when to seek treatment, and how to help prevent it.
Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, is one of the most common and treatable eye conditions in children and adults. It is 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.
What Causes Pink Eye?
There are four main causes of pink eye:
- Allergens (like pet dander or dust mites)
- Irritants (like smog or swimming pool chlorine) that infect or irritate the eye and eyelid lining
It can be difficult to determine the exact cause of pink eye because some signs and symptoms may be the same no matter the cause.
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.
When to See a Healthcare Provider?
Most cases of pink eye are mild and get better on their own, even without treatment. However, there are times when it is important to see a healthcare provider for specific treatment and/or close follow-up. You should see a healthcare provider if you have pink eye along with any of the following:
- 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
See conjunctivitis treatment for more information.
How Do I Stop Pink Eye from Spreading?
Pink eye caused by a virus or bacteria is very contagious and spreads easily and quickly from person to person. Pink eye that is caused by allergens or irritants is not contagious, but it is possible to develop a secondary infection caused by a virus or bacteria that is contagious. You can reduce the risk of getting or spreading pink eye by following some simple 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.
More about the different types of 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
- 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
- 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
The information in this post has been taken from the US CDC website and the following two pages: