It’s probably happened to you, your child, or someone you know: you wake up one morning with a swollen, crusty, runny, and irritated eye, seemingly out of nowhere. Pink eye, medically known as conjunctivitis, is one of the most common eye conditions, with between three and six million cases occurring in the U.S. each year.
Pink eye is defined as inflammation of the thin transparent tissue (conjunctiva) that covers the outer surface of the eye and the inner surface of the eyelid. You can develop pink eye in one or both eyes and typically does not impact your vision if you get the proper treatment.
The most common causes of pink eye are viruses, bacteria, and allergens. Other causes include external irritants such as dust and chemicals, parasites, and even contact lens use. It’s possible to be exposed to certain germs or allergens without realizing it. Often you may not know the source, as symptoms may be similar no matter the cause of the pink eye.
While pink eye isn’t typically severely painful, it can be uncomfortable and annoying. Symptoms can include redness, irritation, increased tear production, and eye discharge.
Let’s go over the most common causes of pink eye in a little more detail:
Since there are many potential causes of pink eye, you should be evaluated by your provider to get an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment. Although conjunctivitis will almost always cause a pink eye, not every pink eye is caused by conjunctivitis. Prompt evaluation is particularly important if you have eye pain, blurred vision, intense eye redness, or if symptoms appear in a newborn.
Generally, viral pink eye resolves in 1 to 2 weeks without treatment, and antibiotics will not improve symptoms. Bacterial pink eye may get better without treatment, but antibiotics can help you feel better faster and reduce the spread. Allergic pink eye usually improves with allergen avoidance, and treatment can include oral allergy medications and eye drops.
Along with talking to your provider, there are several things you can do at home to help yourself feel better:
You can help avoid getting and spreading pink eye by practicing good hygiene.
If you have pink eye:
If you are around someone who has pink eye:
Pink eye can be frustrating, but you can help speed your recovery with proper treatment and good hygiene. If you have questions about pink eye or start to see signs of an infection, your Atrius Health provider is here to help.