Pinkeye Health Summary
Pinkeye (conjunctivitis) is a contagious infection caused by bacteria or viruses. Symptoms and signs include eyelids that are stuck together, tearing, clear drainage from the eye, itching, burning, or a gritty feeling in the eye, and light sensitivity. Treatment may involve the use of prescription eye drops or ointment to reduce swelling, redness, and discomfort and to help prevent the spread of the infection.
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Pinkeye Overview

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Pinkeye is an inflammation of the conjunctiva (the outermost transparent covering of the white of the eye and the inside of the eyelids) in the eye. This inflammation may lead to redness, tearing, discharge, itching, and pain. Pinkeye is also called conjunctivitis.

Pinkeye Causes

Pinkeye is a non-medical term that encompasses a wide variety of medical causes of red eyes.

Most ophthalmologists (physicians who specialize in medical and surgical treatment of eye diseases) consider the term pinkeye to refer to viral conjunctivitis, an infection caused by several groups of common respiratory viruses.

Other causes of conjunctivitis include bacterial infection, allergic reactions, chemical or physical exposures, and ocular drying or irritation.

Pinkeye Symptoms and Signs

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With pinkeye, the eye looks red and may feel itchy. Sometimes there is a sensation as if something is in the eye. Viral conjunctivitis usually affects both eyes, although the severity or onset of signs and symptoms may be different between the two eyes. Other symptoms include

  • eyelids stuck together when you wake up in the morning (the classic symptom);
  • tearing and mild swelling of the eyelids;
  • symptoms often occur in the setting of an upper respiratory infection (cold);
  • thin, clear drainage from the eye;
  • itching, burning, or a feeling of sand in the eye;
  • mild sensitivity to bright lights;
  • a tender pea-sized lymph node in front of the ear on one or both sides;
  • and family members may have the same symptoms (an infection passed from one person to another).

When to Seek Medical Care

Do not assume that all red, irritated, or swollen eyes are pinkeye (viral conjunctivitis). Symptoms could also be caused by seasonal allergies, a sty or a chalazion (an inflammation of the gland along the eyelid), or blepharitis (an inflammation or infection of the skin along the eyelid). These conditions are not contagious. Pinkeye, if caused by a virus, is highly contagious.

Call your ophthalmologist if any of the following symptoms develop.

  • If there is yellow or green discharge from your eye
  • If you have high fever, shaking chills, facial pain, or vision loss
  • If you have severe pain in your eye when you look into a bright light
  • If the redness does not improve within two weeks
  • If you have blurred vision, double vision, or see rings of light (halos) around objects
  • If you have burning during urination or discharge from the penis or vagina

Your ophthalmologist may advise you to come into the office to be seen immediately. If you cannot reach your ophthalmologist, go to the hospital's emergency department.

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