Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye) - Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Written By: Dr. Emad Mahmoud Badawy

Dr. Emad Mahmoud Badawy is a Specialist in the Department of Ophthalmology at Medcare Eye Centre – Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai.

Updated On:December 13, 2023

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What is Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)?

The pink eye is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the transparent tissue that lines the inner surface of your eyelid and the outer layer of your eye. Viruses, bacteria, allergies, and other factors can all cause pink eye. Treatment options include eye drops, ointments, tablets, water flushes, and comfort care depending on the cause behind your pink eye. In medical terms, pink eye is referred to in medicine as conjunctivitis, and it can affect one or both eyes.

Causes of Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)

The conjunctiva, the membrane that covers your eye, becomes irritated, which makes the blood vessels in it more visible, giving the pink eye its pink or reddish hue. The causes of  inflammation include the following:

  • Viruses: The most frequent cause of pink eye is viruses. One group of viruses that can cause pink eye is the coronavirus, which includes the common cold and COVID-19.
  • Bacteria: Bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus, Haemophilus influenzae, Streptococcus pneumonia, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa are frequently responsible for bacterial conjunctivitis.
  • Allergens: Molds, pollen, and other allergens fall under this category.
  • Items that irritate: This includes dirt, smoking, contact lenses, cosmetics, shampoos, and pool chlorine. This also includes a foreign object in your eye.
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs): STIs can be brought on by bacteria (gonorrhea or chlamydia) or viruses (herpes simplex). Pink eye can be brought on by STIs in both adults and babies.
  • Infants with partially or completely closed tear ducts.
  • Autoimmune diseases: Pink eye is a rare complication of illnesses that cause the body's immune system to overreact.

 Symptoms of Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)

Pink eye symptoms include the following:

  • A crust of thick, yellow secretion on your eyelashes, especially after sleeping
  • Burning eyes
  • Eyelid swelling
  • Feeling gritty in one or both eyes
  • Green or white discharge
  • Hazy vision
  • Increased light sensitivity
  • Itchy eye
  • Redness of inner eyelid or the white of your eye
  • Tearing

Certain symptoms, such as redness, sensitivity to light, and crusting along your eyelids, are similar between pink eyes and styes. Yet, the two conditions are distinct and have unique causes. There are a few signs to watch for that are typical of pink eye, but only your doctor can definitively diagnose you. If the entire white of your eye is light pink to reddish, you undoubtedly have a pink eye. Some other distinctive symptoms to pink eye include always tearing, discharge that is green, yellow, or white, and itchiness.

 When to see a doctor for Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)?

If you have any worries, don't hesitate to reach out to your healthcare practitioner. Certain symptoms, like an ulcer, which can cause irreversible eyesight loss, can be a sign of a serious condition. If you experience any of the following, call your healthcare practitioner or find immediate medical attention.

  • A rise in light sensitivity, especially if it's extreme
  • A reduction in eyesight or blurriness
  • Eye discomfort
  • Have the impression that something is in your eye
  • Have eye discharge
  • Worsening symptoms

Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye) Diagnosis

Your eyes or your child's eyes will be examined by an ophthalmologist or pediatrician. Pink eye can typically be identified by your doctor depending on your symptoms and medical background. To examine your vision, you could perform an eye chart test or acuity test. Inform your medical professional if you have:

  • Had a recent bacterial or viral infection
  • Allergies
  • Have recently had anything unpleasant (such as chemicals or foreign particles) in your eyes
  • Exposed to a sexually transmitted infection
  • Have autoimmune diseases in your family or having another cause to suspect you do

Pink eye is uncommon, but if your doctor suspects germs are to blame or if the illness is severe, they might wish to do certain tests. They will collect secretions from the area surrounding your eye with a soft-tipped stick (swab), and then send the sample to a lab. Tests will be performed in the lab to determine the cause of your pink eye.

 Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye) Treatment

Whether pink eye is brought on by bacteria, a virus, an allergy, or something else will determine how it should be treated.

  • Treatment for bacterially induced pink eye

If germs are the cause of your pink eye, your doctor will write you an antibiotic prescription (eye drops, ointments or pills).

  • Treatment of virus-induced pink eye treatment

Virus-induced pink eye doesn't require treatment unless it's caused by the herpes simplex, varicella-zoster, or a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Antiviral drugs are necessary for treating these severe illnesses. They could leave an eye scar or impair your eyesight if untreated.

  • Treatment for pink eye brought on by irritants

If something irritates your eyes and gets into them, rinse them for five minutes with a warm, moderate stream of water. Avoid being around the irritating compounds any longer. Within four hours of cleaning your eyes, they ought to start to get better.

  • Treatment allergy-related pink eye

Eye drops either over the counter or on prescription are used to treat allergic conjunctivitis. They either contain antihistamines to manage allergic reactions or anti-inflammatory medications like steroids or decongestants to treat inflammation. By placing a cold compress to your closed eyelids, you can momentarily ease your symptoms. By avoiding the allergens that trigger your symptoms or using over-the-counter allergy medications, you can avoid developing this type of pink eye.

  • Treatment for pink eye brought on by STIs (STIs)

Although rare, pink eye brought on by STIs can be dangerous. Antibiotics are used to treat pink eye caused by bacteria, and antiviral drugs are used to treat pink eye caused by viruses.

  • Treatment for autoimmune disease-related pink eye

If you have an autoimmune pink eye, treating the underlying condition will also take care of your pink eye. To control your symptoms until your eye feels better, ask your healthcare practitioner.

Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye) Prevention

Your doctor may advise you to skip work, school, or child care until you are no longer contagious if you or your child has bacterial or viral pink eye. Pink eye can be stopped in its tracks by practicing good general hygiene and ocular cleanliness.

  • Avoid touching or rubbing an inflamed eye(s)
  • Wash your hands with soap and water frequently.
  • Use two new cotton balls per day to wipe away any discharge from your eyes. After discarding the cotton ball, wash your hands in warm soapy water.
  • After using eye drops or ointment on your own or another person's eyes, wash your hands.
  • Never exchange personal goods like towels, cups, makeup, or contact lenses.

References

Patel, P. B., Diaz, M. C. G., Bennett, J. E., & Attia, M. W. (2007). Clinical features of bacterial conjunctivitis in children. Academic Emergency Medicine14(1), 1-5.

Scherer, L. D., Finan, C., Simancek, D., Finkelstein, J. I., & Tarini, B. A. (2016). Effect of “pink eye” label on parents’ intent to use antibiotics and perceived contagiousness. Clinical pediatrics55(6), 543-548.

Sharma, M., Nagori, K., Soni, S., Verma, V. S., & Singh, A. (2014). Herbal significance and home remedies to treat conjunctivitis: An overview. Research Journal of Topical and Cosmetic Sciences5(1), 30-35.

Xu, R. (2022). An overview of eye infection. African Journal of Infectious Diseases Research9(1), 1-2.

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