Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)

Closeup of an Eye With Conjunctivitis

Pink eye, the common name for conjunctivitis, is an inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva. The eye appears pink in conjunctivitis because the blood vessels are dilated. Pink eye is often accompanied by a discharge, but vision is usually normal and discomfort is mild.

Either a bacterial or a viral infection may cause conjunctivitis. Viral conjunctivitis is more common, and may last several weeks. It may be accompanied by an upper respiratory infection (or cold). Unlike viruses, bacterial conjunctivitis is treated with a variety of antibiotic eye drops or ointments. This will typically relieve the infection in a day or two.

Conjunctivitis tends to be highly contagious. People who have it should not share towels or pillowcases and should wash their hands frequently. They may need to stay home from school or work and should stay out of swimming pools.

Not everyone with conjunctivitis has an infection. Allergies can cause conjunctivitis too. Typically, people with allergic conjunctivitis have itchy eyes, especially in spring and fall. Allergic conjunctivitis is treated with eye drops that control itching.

Do not use medications that contain steroids (usually ending in “-one” or “-dex”) unless prescribed by an ophthalmologist.