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Eye Health Center

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Pink Eye

Pink Eye Overview

Pink eye 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.

Pink Eye Causes

Pink eye is a nonmedical term that encompasses several medical causes of conjunctivitis.

Most eye doctors would probably associate the term pink eye with to viral conjunctivitis.

Other causes of conjunctivitis include bacteria, allergic reaction, and chemical irritation.

Pink Eye Symptoms

A pink and itchy eye is a common symptom of pink eye. Sometimes, it feels like there's something in the eye. Other symptoms of pink eye 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 feeling like there's 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 Pink Eye

Do not assume that all red, irritated, or swollen eyes are pink eye (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. Pink eye, 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.

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