Understanding Pink Eye: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

Dinesh Patel
Medically reviewed by
Dr. Kaushal

Review medical content on WOW Rx Pharmacy, so that accurate drug use information is easily accessible to everybody.
Dr. Akansha is a licensed Clinical Pharmacologist. She possesses remarkable knowledge in Pharmacovigilance, prescription analysis, drug information, and drug safety services. Additionally, she is a keen learner and an educator.

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pink eye

Pink eye, also known as Conjunctivitis, occurs when the thin white part of the eye becomes inflamed.

Viruses, allergies, or bacteria are the common causes. 

The common cause of pink eye is a virus called Adenovirus. 

It is estimated that acute Conjunctivitis affects 6 million people annually in the United States.

Symptoms include redness, increased tearing, and discharge from the eye. 

Viral Conjunctivitis is usually self-limiting and doesn’t require treatment. 

This article will discuss the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for pink eye. 

Causes of the pink eye

Pink eye or Conjunctivitis can be caused due to different factors. Some of these can be contagious, while others are not. 


Viral Conjunctivitis, the most common type, is mainly caused by adenoviruses. 

These viruses can also cause respiratory tract infections, diarrhea, and other illnesses in children. 

Viral Conjunctivitis is highly contagious, especially in children. 

It can spread through direct contact, airborne transmission, or exposure to contaminated surfaces like swimming pools.

Adenoviruses are responsible for many human infections, including respiratory infections, eye infections (such as Conjunctivitis), and gastrointestinal infections.

Bacterial Infection

bacterial pink eye treatmentSource: freepik
Bacterial pink

Bacterial Conjunctivitis is a type of eye infection caused by bacteria that include Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Haemophilus influenza.

Bacterial Conjunctivitis can occur as a secondary infection following a cold or respiratory infection. 

When you get a cold or lung infection, the bacteria spread from the respiratory tract to the eyes, leading to Conjunctivitis.

Another common way to get bacterial Conjunctivitis is through poor hygiene. 

Touching your eyes with dirty hands or coming into contact with contaminated items like towels or makeup brushes can transfer bacteria to your eyes and cause an infection.

Bacterial Conjunctivitis is highly contagious and can quickly spread from person to person. 

Direct contact with an infected person’s eye discharge or contaminated objects can lead to the transmission of the bacteria.

Allergic reaction

Allergic Conjunctivitis is a type of Conjunctivitis caused by an allergic reaction to certain substances called allergens. 

Common allergens that can trigger allergic Conjunctivitis include pollen from trees, grass, and flowers, pet dander, dust mites, and certain chemicals.

When people prone to allergies come into contact with these allergens, their immune system mistakenly identifies them as harmful and releases chemicals to defend against them. 

These chemicals cause inflammation in the conjunctiva. 

It’s important to note that allergic Conjunctivitis is not contagious. 

However, it can be uncomfortable and interfere with daily activities, especially during allergy seasons or exposure to specific allergens.


Chemical irritants can cause irritation and inflammation of the conjunctiva, resulting in symptoms similar to pink eye. 

These irritants can be found in various forms, such as smoke, fumes, or exposure to certain chemicals.

When exposed to smoke, the conjunctiva can become red, itchy, and irritated, leading to symptoms resembling a pink eye.

Chlorine in swimming pools is another chemical irritant that can cause conjunctival inflammation. 

Chlorine used to disinfect pool water have a strong smell, and exposure to chlorine fumes can irritate the eyes, causing redness, burning, and discomfort. 

This condition, often called “swimming pool Conjunctivitis,” is temporary and typically resolves without treatment.

Exposure to harsh substances such as cleaning agents, solvents, or industrial chemicals. 

They can cause redness, itching, tearing, and a gritty sensation when these substances come into contact with the eyes.

It’s important to note that irritant-induced Conjunctivitis does not spread from person to person. 

However, it can cause significant discomfort and affect vision temporarily.

Symptoms of pink eye

Pink eye or Conjunctivitis can have various symptoms depending on the underlying cause. Common symptoms of pink eye include:


Eye Redness and PainSource: pixelshot
Eye redness

The thin tissue covering the eye’s white part becomes red and swollen.

Eye Discharge

There may be a liquid discharge from the eye, ranging from watery to thick, yellow, or green. 

The discharge can sometimes cause the eyelids to stick together, especially after sleeping.

Itching and irritation

The affected eye(s) may feel itchy, irritated, and uncomfortable. 

There may be a constant urge to rub the eyes, but rubbing should be avoided as it can worsen the condition.


Excessive tearing or watery eyes can occur because of the irritation and inflammation of the conjunctiva.

Sensitivity to light

Some individuals with pink eye may experience sensitivity to light, also known as Photophobia, making it uncomfortable to be in brightly lit environments.

Grittiness or foreign body sensation

The eye may feel like there is something gritty or stuck in it, causing discomfort or a feeling as if a foreign body is present.


Swelling of the eyelids may occur, causing them to appear puffy or swollen.

Blurred Vision

In some cases, pink eye can temporarily affect vision, causing blurred vision or difficulty focusing.

Blurred vision can be a severe symptom associated with pink eye. If you are experiencing sudden or worsening blurry vision, seek immediate medical attention. Blurred vision could indicate a more severe underlying condition. 

It’s important to note that the specific symptoms can vary depending on the cause of pink eye, whether it’s viral, bacterial, allergic, or due to irritants. 

Additionally, some individuals may experience symptoms in only one eye, while others may have symptoms in both eyes.

Also Read: You can go through the article Bacterial Pink Eye Symptoms: Recognize the Signs

Diagnosis of pink eye

The diagnosis of pink eye, also known as Conjunctivitis, is typically made based on the patient’s symptoms and a physical eye examination. 

The healthcare provider will evaluate the appearance of the conjunctiva and ask about the patient’s medical history and recent exposure to any potential causes.

During the examination, the healthcare provider will look for specific signs to help determine the underlying cause of pink eye. 

These signs may include:

In some cases, additional tests will be done to confirm the diagnosis or determine the specific cause of pink eye. These tests can include:

Laboratory tests

Swabs or samples from the eye may be collected to test for bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens causing the infection. 

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests can detect specific viral DNA.

Allergy testing

If allergic Conjunctivitis is suspected, allergy testing may be recommended to identify the specific allergen triggering the reaction.

It’s important to contact your doctor for an accurate diagnosis of pink eye. 

They will consider the patient’s symptoms, perform a thorough examination, and may order additional tests if necessary. 

Proper diagnosis helps determine the appropriate treatment and management options for the specific type of Conjunctivitis.

When to see a doctor?

If you have Conjunctivitis (pink eye) and experience any of the following, it’s essential to see a healthcare provider:

  • Pain in the eyes
  • Sensitivity to light or blurry vision that doesn’t get better even after cleaning discharge from the eyes
  • Severe redness in the eyes
  • Symptoms that worsen or don’t improve, especially if you’re using antibiotics for bacterial Conjunctivitis and there’s no improvement after 24 hours
  • If you have a weak immune system due to conditions like HIV, undergoing cancer treatment, or other medical conditions or treatments
  • Newborns with signs of Conjunctivitis should be seen by a doctor right away

These signs indicate the need for medical attention to ensure proper evaluation and appropriate treatment for your condition.

Treatment of pink eye

The treatment for pink eye, also known as Conjunctivitis, depends on the condition’s underlying cause. 

Here is a breakdown of the treatment for different types of Conjunctivitis:

Viral Conjunctivitis

For viral Conjunctivitis, the following treatment is followed:

  • Many cases of viral Conjunctivitis are mild and will heal on their own without treatment
  • The infection typically resolves within 7 to 14 days, but it can sometimes take longer
  • A doctor may prescribe antiviral medications for more severe cases caused by specific viruses like herpes simplex or varicella-zoster
  • Antibiotics are not effective against viruses and do not improve viral Conjunctivitis

Bacterial Conjunctivitis

eyedropsSource: RealPeopleGroup_from_Getty_Images
Taking Eyedrops

For viral Conjunctivitis, the following treatment is followed:

  • Mild bacterial Conjunctivitis may improve without antibiotic treatment within 2 to 5 days, but it takes up to 2 weeks to fully heal
  • Healthcare professionals may prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointment to help shorten the duration of infection, reduce complications, and prevent the spread of bacteria to others
  • Antibiotics are particularly recommended when there is pus-like discharge, immune system compromise, or suspicion of certain bacteria
  • It’s vital to complete the entire course of antibiotics as the doctor prescribes

Also Read: If you are willing to know some natural remedies, go through the article, How to Treat Bacterial Pink Eye Naturally?

Allergic Conjunctivitis

For viral Conjunctivitis, the following treatment is followed:

  • Removing the allergen from the environment is the primary approach to managing allergic Conjunctivitis caused by allergens like pollen or animal dander
  • Allergy medications, such as oral antihistamines, can help relieve overall allergy symptoms, including allergic Conjunctivitis
  • Topical antihistamine and vasoconstrictor eye drops can be used to provide relief from itching, redness, and swelling
  • Sometimes, a doctor may recommend a combination of medications to improve symptoms and manage the underlying allergy
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You should contact your doctor, as they can diagnose and recommend appropriate treatment recommendations for pink eye.

Additionally, practicing good hygiene, such as washing hands frequently and avoiding touching or rubbing the eyes, can prevent the spread of pink eye and promote faster recovery.


In conclusion, Conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink eye, is a common eye condition. 

Viral infections, bacterial infections, or allergic reactions cause it. 

The symptoms of Conjunctivitis include redness, itching, irritation, discharge, and sensitivity to light.

Most cases of viral and mild bacterial Conjunctivitis resolve without treatment.

It is important to contact your doctor if symptoms or underlying health conditions are present. 

Treatment options for Conjunctivitis vary depending on the causes. 

Antiviral medications are prescribed for viral Conjunctivitis, antibiotics for bacterial Conjunctivitis, and allergen avoidance or medication for allergic Conjunctivitis. 

Timely diagnosis and appropriate management of Conjunctivitis can help alleviate symptoms, prevent complications, and minimize the spread of the infection.

Suppose you suspect you have Conjunctivitis or experience concerning symptoms. 

It would be wise to go to your doctor for evaluation and guidance.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the fastest way to stop pink eye?

The fastest way to stop pink eye depends on the cause. Viral Conjunctivitis usually resolves within a couple of weeks. Apply warm compresses to the eyes. It can help soothe the discomfort. Antibiotic eye drops or ointments a healthcare provider prescribes can speed up recovery from bacterial Conjunctivitis.

Can pink eye be treated at home?

Mild cases of pink eye can often be managed at home. You should rest, apply warm compresses, and avoid touching the eyes without washing your hands. Allergic Conjunctivitis can be managed by avoiding allergens and using over-the-counter eye drops. 

What is the best antibiotic for eye infections?

The choice of antibiotic for eye infections depends on the type of the infection. Commonly prescribed antibiotics for bacterial Conjunctivitis include Erythromycin, Tobramycin, Ciprofloxacin, and Moxifloxacin. A healthcare provider should determine the best antibiotic for a particular eye infection.

How long does Conjunctivitis last?

The duration of Conjunctivitis can vary depending on the cause. Viral Conjunctivitis typically takes 2 to 3 weeks to resolve completely. Bacterial Conjunctivitis often improves within a few days of starting antibiotic treatment. Allergic Conjunctivitis may persist until effective treatment is provided.

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