Conjunctivitis (pink eye): an overview and more

Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is an inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva , the clear membrane that covers the white part of the eyeball and the inner eyelid. Some forms (bacterial, viral) are very contagious. Others can be caused by allergies or exposure to harsh chemicals. Symptoms include redness, itching, watery eyes, discharge, and more.

Because there are many different causes of pink eye, it is important to consult your doctor to determine the appropriate treatment, which may include eye drops, oral medications, ointments, and / or relief measures.

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Types and causes of conjunctivitis.

Conjunctivitis is a fairly common condition with many possible causes . They can be classified into several types: viral conjunctivitis, bacterial conjunctivitis, allergic conjunctivitis, chemical conjunctivitis, and autoimmune / inflammatory conjunctivitis.

Viral conjunctivitis

The most common viral type that is highly contagious is epidemic keratoconjunctivitis (EKC) , which most people are talking about when talking about conjunctivitis. Viral conjunctivitis can be spread through eye contact or contaminated objects.

Viral conjunctivitis can be associated with several viruses, including adenoviruses , measles virus, and herpes simplex virus.

Bacterial conjunctivitis

The bacteria that cause pink eye can be spread by touching your eyes with dirty hands or by exchanging items such as eye makeup, eye drops, contact lens cases, or towels. It can be caused by bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus , Streptococcus pneumoniae , Moraxella catarrhalis , or Haemophilus influenza .

Babies who pass through the birth canal can also get a serious type of conjunctivitis (newborn ophthalmia).

Allergic conjunctivitis

Any allergy trigger can cause allergic conjunctivitis, including seasonal allergies , food allergies , or contact dermatitis of the eyelids (often caused by rubbing the eyes).

A unique type, called giant papillary conjunctivitis (GPC) , is caused by the persistent presence of a foreign body, such as contact lenses, in the eye.

Chemical conjunctivitis

Also known as toxic conjunctivitis, it can be caused by anything in the environment that irritates or damages the eyes, such as smoke, fumes, acid, or chlorine from a swimming pool.

Inflammatory / autoimmune

This can happen with conditions like ocular rosacea / dry eye, Sjogren's disease, and thyroid disease.

Is conjunctivitis contagious?

Conjunctivitis can be contagious depending on its type. Infectious conjunctivitis caused by viruses and bacteria can easily spread to other people. If it is caused by an allergy, an autoimmune reaction, or a toxic chemical, it is not contagious.


Conjunctivitis symptoms occur when the immune system reacts to an infection or irritant with inflammation . Blood vessels dilate to help immune cells reach the area, causing redness and swelling.

If there is an infection, the accumulation of dead white blood cells and dead bacteria (or viruses) can cause pus to form.

Symptoms of conjunctivitis can include:

  • Discoloration of one or both eyes to pink or red
  • Gritty sensation in the affected eye.
  • Discharge from the eye, which may crust over, especially at night.
  • Itchy or burning eyes
  • Excessive tearing
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Blurry vision
  • Increased sensitivity to light

Symptoms can vary depending on the type of conjunctivitis. When caused by an allergy, you may experience itchy, watery eyes without thick discharge or scabs.

Bacterial conjunctivitis usually presents with a thick, yellowish discharge that causes the eyes to crust over and clump together. Viral conjunctivitis usually has a watery discharge, rather than a thick one. With chemical conjunctivitis, tearing and mucus production can occur, with symptoms that vary by substance.

When to call your healthcare provider

It is not always necessary to see a doctor for conjunctivitis, unless your symptoms are severe or improve within a week. However, you should call your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Swelling, redness, or pain of the eyelids and around the eyes (which may indicate that the infection has spread beyond the conjunctiva)
  • Hot
  • Pain, sensitivity to light, blurred vision, or severe redness
  • Symptoms that do not improve despite treatment.
  • A condition that weakens your immune system, such as HIV.
  • Any sign of conjunctivitis in a newborn.


If you have symptoms of conjunctivitis, make an appointment with your doctor or optometrist.

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history, including eye injury or contact with other people who have had pink eye.

They can examine your eye with a flashlight or ophthalmoscope to illuminate or enlarge the structures. Your doctor may gently lift your upper eyelid to see if there is a foreign body lodged under your eyelid. You may also be asked to read an eye chart to assess your vision.

Usually, your healthcare provider can tell if you have pink eye just by looking at it. If you have been diagnosed with conjunctivitis, your doctor will determine whether the cause is infectious, allergic, or toxic. They will appreciate:

  • One or both eyes are affected (as bacterial infections generally affect only one eye, while viral infections and allergies more often affect both eyes)
  • Visible discharge (indicates infection)
  • The discharge is thick or thin
  • Bleeding in the eye
  • Have swollen lymph nodes
  • You have allergy symptoms such as hives or allergic rhinitis.

Depending on the type and severity of your condition, your healthcare provider may want to collect a sample of eye discharge to determine the cause of the infection. Other tests may include rapid adenovirus detection to confirm EKC or fluorescent eye staining to look for abrasions or signs of an ulcer or lesion (such as that which can occur with the herpes simplex virus ).

In some cases, your PCP may decide that you need a referral to an ophthalmologist or allergist . The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends referring patients to an ophthalmologist if they experience vision loss, moderate to severe pain, corneal problems, conjunctival scarring, lack of response to treatment within a week, recurrent conjunctivitis, or a history of herpes. simplex viral eye disease.

Watch out

Treatment for pink eye depends on the underlying cause. In some cases, the symptoms may go away on their own. In other cases, they may need treatment with topical eye drops or oral medications to treat the underlying infection.

Among the treatment approaches:

  • Bacterial conjunctivitis: Uncomplicated cases can often be treated with antibiotic eye drops or topical ointments. In some cases, an oral antibiotic may be prescribed. Symptoms usually go away within three to four days. Most cases of neonatal ophthalmia are now prevented through the standard practice of administering a topical antibiotic to the eyes of newborns after delivery.
  • Viral Conjunctivitis – As with many viral infections like the common cold, the illness simply has to continue. This can take two to three weeks. If there is severe pain or discomfort, steroid eye drops may be used to relieve it. In some cases, oral antiviral medications may be prescribed.
  • Allergic conjunctivitis – The best treatment is to remove the allergy trigger . Antihistamines and / or topical steroid eye drops may also be prescribed.
  • Chemical conjunctivitis: Treatment consists of flushing the eyes with water or saline. In severe cases, topical steroids may be required. Serious chemical injuries, especially alkali burns, are considered a medical emergency and are treated in the same way as burns .
  • Inflammatory / Autoimmune – Treating the underlying problem can reduce eye damage.

Relief symptoms

You can relieve symptoms with all types of conjunctivitis treatment by doing the following at home:

  • Use a warm compress. Dampen a cloth with lukewarm water, squeeze out excess water, and gently apply to closed eyelids. Use a different cloth for each eye to prevent the infection from spreading.
  • Stop wearing contact lenses. To help your eyes heal, wear glasses until symptoms go away and your eyes return to normal. If contact lenses are a probable cause of conjunctivitis, your optometrist may need to change your prescription to a different type of lens.
  • Use over-the-counter eye drops. For viral or bacterial conjunctivitis, lubricating eye drops (artificial tears) can provide some relief. For allergic conjunctivitis, lubricating eye drops can sometimes help remove allergens. You can also try drops that contain antihistamines. Do not use eye drops that reduce redness, as they can make some of the symptoms worse.
  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers. For discomfort or pain, try an oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen.

If you have infectious conjunctivitis caused by bacteria or viruses, you should not go to work or home school until the infection stops. You are less likely to get infected with pink eye if you took antibiotics within 24 hours (for bacterial infections) or after your symptoms are completely gone .


You can prevent infectious conjunctivitis by following these tips :

  • Wash your hands regularly.
  • Keep your hands out of sight.
  • Do not share personal items such as towels, facial wipes, makeup brushes, or anything that comes in contact with your eyes or eyelids.

If you have pink eye caused by bacteria or a virus, you can avoid spreading it to others by following the tips above and the following :

  • Wait for the symptoms to go away before returning to work or school. If you have a bacterial infection, ask your doctor if it can come back after taking an antibiotic within 24 hours.
  • Gently wipe the eye secretions with fresh cotton balls for each eye. Do not use the same for both eyes. When you're done, throw them away and wash your hands.
  • Wash your hands after applying the ointment or eye drops.
  • Wash or change pillowcases, sheets, and towels every day.

Get the word of drug information

Conjunctivitis is usually a minor eye infection, but if left untreated, it can turn into a more serious condition. Although many forms of conjunctivitis can be treated by a doctor or pediatrician, severe cases (or those that do not respond to treatment) should be evaluated by an ophthalmologist.

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