Pink Eye: Usually Mild and Easy to Treat
Pink, itchy eyes? Pink eye – or conjunctivitis – is common and can spread easily. It sometimes needs medical treatment, depending on the cause. Know the symptoms, how to help prevent it, and when to seek treatment.
Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, is one of the most common eye conditions in children and adults. It is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin, clear tissue that lines the inside of the eyelid and the white part of the eyeball. This inflammation makes blood vessels more visible and gives the eye a pink or reddish color.
What Are the Symptoms of Pink Eye?
The signs and symptoms of pink eye may vary depending on the cause, but they usually include—
- Redness or swelling of the white of the eye or inside the eyelids
- Increased amount of tears
- White, yellow or green eye discharge
- Itchy eyes
- Burning eyes
- Increased sensitivity to light
- Gritty feeling in the eye
- Crusting of the eyelids or lashes
What Causes Pink Eye?
There are four main causes of pink eye:
- Allergens (like pet dander or dust mites)
- Irritants (like smog or swimming pool chlorine) that infect or irritate the eye and eyelid lining
How Do I Stop Pink Eye from Spreading?
Viral and bacterial pink eye are very contagious and can spread easily and quickly from person to person. You can reduce the risk of getting or spreading pink eye by following some simple self-care steps, like washing your hands and not touching your eyes. See conjunctivitis prevention. Pink eye that is caused by allergens or irritants is not contagious, but it is possible to develop a secondary infection by other viruses or bacteria.
How Is Pink Eye Treated?
The treatment for pink eye depends on the cause. Pink eye is usually mild and will often get better on its own, even without treatment. However, there are times when it is important to see a health care provider and get an antibiotic or other medical treatment. See conjunctivitis treatment.
When Should I Call a Health Care Provider?
Most cases of pink eye are mild and get better without treatment. However, some forms are more severe. Severe cases need to be looked at by a health care provider and may require specific treatment and close follow-up. If you have pink eye, you should see your health care provider if you have—
- Moderate to severe pain in your eye(s)
- Blurred vision or increased sensitivity to light
- Intense redness in the eye(s)
- A weakened immune system, for example, from HIV or cancer treatment
- Bacterial pink eye that does not improve after 24 hours of antibiotic use
- Symptoms that get worse or don't improve
- Pre-existing eye conditions that may put you at risk for complications or severe infection
Pink Eye in Newborns
A newborn baby who has symptoms of pink eye should see a health care provider. Pink eye in newborns can be caused by an infection, irritation, or a blocked tear duct. It can be very serious because it may cause long-term eye problems or lead to infection of organs other than the eye.
Neonatal pink eye can also be caused by sexually transmitted infections, like gonorrhea or chlamydia, and be passed from mother to baby most commonly during birth. If you are pregnant and think you may have a sexually transmitted infection, visit your health care provider for testing and treatment. If you don't know whether you have a sexually transmitted infection but have recently given birth and your newborn shows signs of pink eye, visit your child's health care provider right away.
Most hospitals are required by state law to put drops or ointment in a newborn's eyes to prevent pink eye. For more information, see conjunctivitis in newborns.
- Pink Eye: What to Do [PODCAST, 3:59 minutes] – a pediatrician and parent reviews pink eye causes and treatment and suggestions on when to call or visit a doctor.
- Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives
- Conjunctivitis: Eye Disease Information (EyeSmart, American Association of Ophthalmologists)
- Facts about the Cornea and Corneal Disease (National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health)