Pink eye (conjunctivitis) is an inflammation or infection of the transparent membrane (conjunctiva) that covers the white part of your eye. When the small vessels in the conjunctiva become infected and inflamed, the whites of your eye appear reddish or pink.
Pink eye is commonly caused by a bacterial or viral infection, an allergic reaction, a chemical splash in your eye, a foreign object in your eye, or in the case of babies, by an incompletely opened tear duct.
Pink eye can be irritating with its discharge and discomfort, but it typically does not impair your vision initially. However, if it causes inflammation of your cornea, your vision can be impaired. Pink eye is as contagious as the common cold, so early diagnosis and treatment are essential to limit its spread.
The Most Common Symptoms of Pink Eye Include:
- Redness in one or both eyes
- Itchiness in one or both eyes
- A gritty feeling in one or both eyes
- Discharge in one or both eyes that forms a crust during the night which may prevent you from being able to open your eye in the morning without the use of warm water
Viral and Bacterial Conjunctivitis
Most cases of pink eye are usually caused by adenovirus. Still, herpes simplex virus, varicella-zoster virus, and other viruses can also be at fault, including the virus that causes coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Both viral and bacterial conjunctivitis can occur alongside colds or sore throats. Wearing contacts that are not properly cleaned can also be a culprit. Remove contact lenses whenever conjunctivitis appears.
Allergic conjunctivitis is a response to an allergen such as pollen and typically affects both eyes. If you have allergic conjunctivitis, you may experience intense itching, tearing, and inflammation of the eyes, along with sneezing and watering nasal discharge. Allergy eye drops can control most allergic conjunctivitis.
Conjunctivitis from chemicals and other irritants like foreign objects
Conjunctivitis associated with chemicals and foreign objects can sometimes be cleared up within a day by flushing and cleaning the eye to rid it of unwanted substances. However, if the chemical is caustic such as lye, or flushing does not resolve the symptoms of redness and mucus discharge, you need to be seen by your provider or an eye specialist promptly. A chemical splash can, in some cases, can cause permanent eye damage.
When foreign objects irritate your eye, do not ignore persistent symptoms as a scratched cornea or sclera (the covering of the eyeball) needs to be treated.
Some serious eye conditions can also cause eye redness, eye pain, blurred vision, light sensitivity, or a feeling that you have a foreign stuck in your eye. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should come in for an acute appointment or go to an urgent care clinic.