Pink eye is a common eye infection. It is important to quickly recognize it and take action to treat it. Having pinkeye is uncomfortable and may force you to take a day off work or school while seeking treatment.
Pink eye is a common infection, especially in young children, because it is so contagious. It affects about 6 million people in the United States each year.1
Table of Contents
What is Pink Eye?
Pinkeye, a subtype of conjunctivitis, is an infection or inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is the clear membrane covering the surface of the sclera (white part of the eye) and inner eyelids.
Identifying the Type of Pink Eye
Viruses, bacteria, and allergens are common causes of conjunctivitis, as are exposures to chemicals.
Viral: Viral conjunctivitis typically starts in one eye and quickly spreads to the other. It is the most common cause of pink eye.2 Eye discharge is usually clear to yellow-tinged and watery. Viral infections are contagious and are transmitted to others through respiratory droplets or by touching contaminated objects or surfaces.
Bacterial: Bacterial conjunctivitis typically has a more yellow-to-green discharge that adheres to eyelashes. Bacterial conjunctivitis and ear infections may occur together.
Allergic: Allergic conjunctivitis is characterized by itching, tearing, and swelling. It may co-occur with other allergy symptoms, such as a runny nose and congestion.
Pink eye is easy to recognize. However, it is more difficult to determine the cause. Viruses, bacteria, and fungi are infectious causes of pink eye but require different treatments. Allergic pinkeye is not contagious and is treated symptomatically. To accurately diagnose your pink eye, contact one of the medical professionals at TelegraMD for a professional online diagnosis.
How Do You Know If You Have Pink Eye?
Common signs and symptoms associated with pink eye include:
- The sensation of a foreign body in the eye
- Swelling of the eye and inner eyelid
- Crusting on the eyelashes
- Gritty sensation
Home Remedies for Pink Eye
Reduce the symptoms of pink eye by using these home remedies. Viral and allergic pink eye are treated with symptomatic care. Bacterial causes of pink eye may require an antibiotic eye ointment or drop. If your symptoms persist or you have pain, fever, light sensitivity, systemic symptoms, or vision changes, call a doctor for treatment advice.
Applying a warm compress
Warm compresses can soothe an inflamed eye and may speed healing by increasing blood flow to your eye. Use a warm compress to gently wipe away any discharge. Do not use the same compress on the other eye or share compresses with another person.
If your conjunctivitis is allergic, use a cool compress instead of a warm one. It will help decrease swelling and itchiness.
Using over-the-counter eye drops
Over-the-counter lubricating drops or artificial tears can reduce irritation, remove allergens, and cleanse your irritated eye.
Avoiding Contact Lenses
About 45 million people in the U.S. wear contact lenses, putting them at increased risk for pink eye.3 About one in every five hundred contact lens wearers develops a serious eye infection that could lead to blindness.4
Wearing your contact lenses when you have an eye infection increases the risk of a more serious infection, increases the risk of complications, and increases the risk of reinfection.
Contact lenses can become contaminated with microorganisms, especially if improperly cleaned, and protein builds up on their surface.
When wearing contact lenses, take these steps to reduce your risk for pink eye:
- Wash your hands before putting contacts in your eyes or removing them.
- Keep your contact case clean and dry between uses.
- Add fresh disinfecting solution to your case before storing your contacts overnight.
- Do not top off your disinfecting solution in your contact cases.
- Add fresh solution each day.
- Replace your storage case every three to six months.
Taking Antihistamines or Decongestants
Antihistamines can reduce itchiness and drainage if your conjunctivitis is allergic. Antihistamines and decongestants can also relieve other cold symptoms if you have a viral infection.
Getting Rest and Fluids
If you have a viral or bacterial infection causing your pinkeye, get plenty of rest and drink fluids. Support your immune system as it fights the infection.
Keep the Infected Area Clean and Dry
Use cool or warm compresses to wipe away any drainage. Keep your eye dry to reduce irritation to the skin around your eye.
Viral and bacterial causes of pink eye can be transmitted from person to person by coughing or sneezing. Pink eye can also be spread by touching a surface that a person with contaminated fingers has previously touched.
You can also get pink eye from bacteria and viruses in your nose and sinuses or contaminated contact lenses.
Preventing Pink Eye Spread
To reduce the spread of pinkeye:
- Avoid touching or rubbing your eyes.
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Avoid sharing personal items like towels and eye makeup.
- Stay out of shared swimming pools.
- Disinfect high-touch surfaces.
- Cover all coughs and sneezes.
- Avoid crowded spaces when you have an infection.
- Use a fresh towel and pillowcase daily.
- Use a clean towel or tissue every time you wipe your eyes.
- Wash your pillowcases, sheets, towels, and washcloths frequently to prevent reinfection.
When To Seek Professional Care
If you have redness, itching, or early symptoms of conjunctivitis, contact an on-call doctor through the TelegraMD platform to receive 24-hour care. If appropriate, after making an online diagnosis, your telemedicine doctor can prescribe an online prescription to treat your conjunctivitis symptoms. Telehealth can be a great cost-effective alternative for treating your non-emergency medical concerns.
If you have any of the following symptoms or signs, contact an eye specialist or ophthalmologist for evaluation and treatment:
- Vision loss or vision changes
- Moderate or severe eye pain
- Changes in the surface of your cornea, a part of the eye that covers your iris and pupil
- Conjunctival scarring
- No response to treatment within a week
- A history or concern about herpes simplex or varicella-zoster conjunctivitis
- Sensitivity to light
While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.
- Udeh BL, Schneider JE, Ohsfeldt RL. Cost effectiveness of a point-of-care test for adenoviral conjunctivitis. Am J Med Sci. Sep 2008;336(3):254-64. doi:10.1097/MAJ.0b013e3181637417
- Azari AA, Barney NP. Conjunctivitis: A Systematic Review of Diagnosis and Treatment. JAMA. 2013;310(16):1721-1730. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.280318
- Cope JR, Collier SA, Nethercut H, Jones JM, Yates K, Yoder JS. Risk Behaviors for contact lens–related eye infections among adults and adolescents — United States, 2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2017;66(32):841-5.
- Dart JK, Radford CF, Minassian D, Verma S, Stapleton F. Risk factors for microbial keratitis with contemporary contact lenses: a case-control study. Ophthalmology. 2008 Oct;115(10):1647-54, 1654.e1-3. doi: 10.1016/j.ophtha.2008.05.003. Epub 2008 Jul 2. PMID: 18597850.