What is “pink eye”?

“Pink eye” explained and the different types of conjunctivitis.

“Pink eye” explained and the different types of conjunctivitis.

Pink eye is a layman’s term used to describe an eye condition called conjunctivitis. Conjunctivitis is inflammation of the conjunctiva which is the outermost clear tissue of the eye that covers the sclera, the white part of the eye.  Conjunctivitis can cause red, watery, irritated, and swollen eyes.  Some symptoms of conjunctivitis include itching, pain, and light sensitivity.  The eye may also produce mucous discharge. There are many types of conjunctivitis such as bacterial, viral, or allergic conjunctivitis.  


Bacterial conjunctivitis occurs when bacteria invades the eye creating an infection.  Bacterial conjunctivitis can cause redness, swelling, and lots of mucous discharge or pus.  It can also be very contagious so frequent handwashing is very important.  Bacterial conjunctivitis is diagnosed by your eye doctor and may be treated with antibiotics and warm compresses.  


Viral conjunctivitis can be caused be many different kinds of viruses and is also very contagious.  This type of conjunctivitis also produces red, swollen eyes but the discharge produced is more watery.  Viral conjunctivitis can also cause light sensitivity.  Your eye doctor must first perform an examination to determine the type of virus and then give the appropriate treatment.    


Allergic conjunctivitis may result from seasonal allergies, pet allergies, dust, mold, a toxic substance, or any trigger that causes an inflammatory response.  Allergic conjunctivitis also can produce red, swollen, watery eyes but there is usually itching associated with it.  Allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious.  An examination will help determine if the conjunctivitis is allergic and if your eye doctor can prescribe medication.    


Some tips to prevent the spread of “pink eye”

  • Wash your hands frequently

  • Do not share make-up, contact lenses, or towels

  • Avoid touching or rubbing your eyes

  • Clean, replace, and dispose your contact lenses as recommended

  • Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing


Conjunctivitis can be highly contagious so it’s always best to see your eye doctor as soon as you notice symptoms, that way you can get treated sooner than later and prevent the worsening and spread of the infection.  If you think you have conjunctivitis, give us a call at Chelsea Eye Associates at (212) 257-0007 to schedule an appointment.  One of our knowledgeable eye doctors will examine, diagnose, and treat your infection.