Pinkeye is an inflammation of the conjunctiva (the covering of the eyeball and inside of the eyelid). This inflammation may lead to redness, tearing, discharge, itching, and pain. Pinkeye is also called conjunctivitis.
Pinkeye is a nonmedical term that encompasses several medical causes of conjunctivitis.
Most eye doctors would probably consider the term pinkeye to refer to viral conjunctivitis.
Other causes of conjunctivitis include bacteria, allergic reaction, and chemical irritation.
A pink and itchy eye is a common symptom of pinkeye. Sometimes, it feels like there's something in the eye. Other symptoms of pinkeye include:
- Eyelids stuck shut when you wake up in the morning (the classic symptom)
- Uncomfortable, thick yellow or green discharge (often a bacterial infection)
- Thin, clear drainage from the eye (often a viral infection or an allergic reaction)
- Itching, burning, or feels like sand in your eye (often a viral infection or an allergic reaction)
- Family member with the same symptoms (indicating that an infection is being passed from one person to another)
- Painful eye in bright light (called photophobia)
- A recent cold (often a viral infection)
- Swollen lymph nodes (often a viral infection)
- Burning during urination or discharge from the penis in men (rare)
- Vaginal discharge in women (a possible complication of a sexually transmitted disease)
When to Seek Medical Care for Pinkeye
Do not assume that all red, irritated, or swollen eyes are pinkeye (viral conjunctivitis). Your symptoms could also be caused by seasonal allergies, a sty, iritis, chalazion (an inflammation of the gland along the eyelid), or blepharitis (an inflammation or infection of the skin along the eyelid). These conditions are not contagious. Pinkeye, if caused by a virus, is highly contagious.
Call your eye doctor if any of the following symptoms develop. Your eye doctor may advise you to come into the office to be seen immediately. If you cannot reach your eye doctor, go to the hospital's emergency department.
- If there is yellow or green discharge from your eye or if your eyelids are stuck together in the morning
- If you have high fever, shaking chills, face pain, or vision loss
- If you have severe pain in your eye when you look into a bright light
- If you have blurred vision, have double vision, or see rings of light (halos) around objects
If symptoms remain mild but the redness does not improve within two weeks, a consultation with an eye doctor is necessary. The doctor will determine if eye drops or ointments are needed or, in more serious cases, oral or intravenous antibiotics.
Questions to Ask the Doctor About Pinkeye
If you've been diagnosed with pinkeye, you might want to ask your doctor these questions:
- Is my pinkeye contagious?
- If my pinkeye is contagious, how do I avoid spreading it?
- Do I need to stay home from work or school?