Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, a thin tissue that lines the inside of your eyelids and covers the white part of the eyes. The conjunctiva keeps your eyeballs moist. When it's infected, the blood vessels swell and turn the white part of your eye bright red.
Pink eye symptoms will vary based on the type of inflammation, but can include:
- Redness in the inner eyelid or on the whites of the eyes
- An itching or burning sensation
- Thick discharge that forms a crust over the eyelids
- A "gritty" feeling in the eyes
- Swollen eyelids
- Blurry vision
- Sensitivity to light
Pink eye can appear in just one eye or it may affect both. The condition usually isn't painful, but it can definitely be uncomfortable. Different types of inflammation lead to pink eye. The three main types are:
Viral inflammation can occur when you get a cold, the flu, or a respiratory infection. It begins in one eye and spreads to the other within a few days. Eye discharge has a watery consistency.
Bacterial pink eye creates the crusty discharge that makes your eyelashes stick together. Your eye will be red and might feel itchy. This type is highly contagious and can spread for up to 48 hours after starting antibiotics to treat the infection.
If both of your eyes are red, swollen, tearing up, and itchy, the culprit is most likely seasonal allergies.
Remedies and Treatments for Pink Eye
Not all forms of pink eye are contagious or require medical care. These prescription and at-home remedies can help alleviate symptoms for the various types of conjunctivitis:
Over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops can alleviate dryness and itchiness. You can buy artificial tears formulated to lubricate your eyes. Avoid brands that reduce redness, as this can lead to more irritation.
Cold or Warm Compress
Place a clean washcloth in cool or lukewarm water and let it soak for a minute. Wring out the cloth, and press it gently onto one or both eyes. If just one eye is infected, keep the compress away from the healthy eye. Apply the compress several times a day.
Prescription Treatments for Pink Eye
Bacterial conjunctivitis is treated with antibiotic eye drops or an ointment. This medication helps clear the infection, reduce eye complications, and prevent you from spreading pink eye to other people. A typical course of treatment lasts from five to seven days. Other therapies include:
- Artificial tears to keep eyes moist
- Antihistamines to stop itchiness and discomfort from common allergens
- Anti-inflammatory medications to reduce inflammation and redness
- Topical corticosteroids in cases of severe conjunctivitis
Mild forms of bacterial pink eye often improve within two to five days without antibiotics. However, the infection can last for up to two weeks, so it's important to talk to your doctor to determine the best course of treatment.
To prevent future infections, throw away contaminated soft contact lenses and eye makeup. Rigid contact lenses should be disinfected or replaced.
When to See a Doctor
Make an appointment to see your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms:
- Increasing pain or blurred vision
- Extreme sensitivity to light
- Symptoms that continue to get worse, or have lasted a week or more
- Excessive pus or mucus in the eye
- Fever or body aches, as this could be a sign of another infection
- You have a weakened immune system, have HIV, or are undergoing cancer treatment
Pink Eye in Children
Pink eye occurs in both adults and children and is a common reason why kids miss school. Here are some ways to help prevent infection:
- Use clean tissues or towels after wiping your eyes or face.
- Wash your hands before and after eating, after using the bathroom, and after coughing or sneezing
- Don't touch your eyes! Wash your hands if you do.
Call your doctor if you suspect that your child has pink eye. Newborns with symptoms of pink eye need immediate medical care.