What is Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis) and How Can it be Treated

Pink eye

We asked Joel Fishbain, M.D., Beaumont infectious diseases, for a rundown on what to know about conjunctivitis, better known as pink eye.

What is pink eye? 

Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is the inflammation of the outside lining of your eyeball and the tissue inside your eyelids.

Conjunctivitis is almost always allergic or viral in origin. Chemical exposures or irritants sometimes may be the cause. Bacterial conjunctivitis is much less common.

What symptoms should people look for?

People often complain of red eyes or waking up with gooey eye discharge or crusting. Typical eye discharge is mostly watery, but if thick, pus-like discharge occurs, seek further evaluation by a medical provider.

Eyes might feel a little gritty or sore. If, however, you notice more sever eye pain, pain associated with eye movement, visual changes that don’t clear with blinking or sensitivity to light, seek immediate medical evaluation. These symptoms may represent a more serious condition.

Some people may also experience other cold-like symptoms such as congestion, sore throat, etc.

How common is pink eye? Are any groups more susceptible to it than others?

Pink eye is highly contagious, and both adults and children are susceptible. Because the viruses that cause pink eye can vary from person to person, one family member might have a mild cold and the other will get pink eye.

Pink eye is also very common during the usual respiratory virus season.

How is pink eye treated? 

When due to common viruses, pink eye is treated with time, or moisturizing drops. However, the more serious conditions that can affect the cornea or inner eye chambers require more immediate attention.

How can people avoid pink eye? 

Avoiding pink eye is like avoiding all common respiratory viruses: Hand washing, cover your cough, don’t share cups that others have drank from, etc. You should avoid work or school during the illness.