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Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye) Symptoms and Treatment

Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is either caused by a virus, bacteria, or an allergen. It is usually mild and totally curable. This HealthHearty article that presents information on the symptoms and treatment of pink eye can help accelerate the process of recovery and can prevent the spread of the infection.
Kevin Mathias
Last Updated: Mar 14, 2018
Conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink eye, is the inflammation of the membranes (conjunctiva) that cover the whites of the eyes and the inner part of the eyelids. These membranes help keep the eyelids and eyes moist. Pink eye is a common and treatable eye infection. It can affect both children and adults. The infection can be contagious or non-contagious. It is more easily acquired by children than adults.
Contagious conjunctivitis is caused by either a bacterium or virus. Non-contagious conjunctivitis is caused by allergens.
Common Causes
  • Viruses like herpes simplex virus (HSV), varicella-zoster virus (VZV), poxvirus (molluscum contagiosum, vaccinia), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), etc.
  • Bacteria like staphylococci, streptococci, gonococci, and chlamydia, a common sexually transmitted disease (STD).
  • Irritants such as chlorine in the swimming pool, smoke, some shampoos getting into the eyes, etc.
  • Allergens such as dust, or pollen
  • Newborns may get infected by bacteria in the birth canal.

Most of the symptoms of conjunctivitis are very obvious. These could include one or more of the following.
  • The white of the eyes turn red or pink (the reason it is also known as pink eye)
  • Uncontrollably itchy eyes
  • Eyes having a burning sensation
  • Throbbing pain in the eyes
  • Swelling of the eyes
  • Bacterial pink eye leads to whitish, yellowish, or greenish discharge from the eyes.
  • Viral pink eye may lead to watery discharge and runny nose as well.
  • In the morning, the eyelids may not open, they usually get stuck by the thick yellow discharge.
  • Swelling of the lymph nodes in front of the ears
  • Sudden increase in the amount of tears
  • Blurred vision (temporary effect)
  • Inability to look directly into any light (increased light sensitivity)

Pink eye, when detected and attended to immediately, is totally curable. Viral pink eye may not require an antibiotic, however, it is as contagious as bacterial pink eye. It remains contagious for 10 - 12 days after the onset of symptoms. The symptoms can last 1 - 2 weeks. It can cause infection of the cornea which needs immediate medical attention. Treatment will vary as to the cause of the pink eye. Conjunctivitis caused by a virus can be cured with the help of antihistamines, anti-inflammatory medication, and a cold compress three to four times daily. Continue till all symptoms are gone.
Bacterial conjunctivitis requires antibiotic eye drops or ointment prescribed by the doctor. Warm washcloths can be applied to the eyes repeatedly. This treatment should be followed (usually 4 times daily) till all symptoms are gone.
For conjunctivitis caused by an allergen, the best treatment is to avoid any contact with the allergen. A cool compress three to four times daily will help, so will antihistamines that are available over-the-counter.
Always see your physician immediately when any symptom of pink eye is detected. A physical examination by the physician should be sufficient to determine what type of conjunctivitis it is. If there is any doubt, the physician may take a specimen of the discharge from the eye, and get it analyzed to make sure if it is caused by a virus, bacteria, or allergen.
When you have pink eye, do not use contact lenses if you normally do. Non-prescription artificial tears (a type of eye drops) will help reduce the itching and burning sensation, but ask your physician before using it. If using eye drops, dispose off the bottle after you are cured. Someone else who uses it could get infected. Never use any lotion, cream, or any sort of make up in or near the eyes.
Preventing the Spread of Conjunctivitis
  • When you have pink eye, never touch or rub the infected eye.
  • Remove all visible discharge and wash eyes thoroughly.
  • Wash hands with soap and water.
  • Do not share your towel, clothes etc. with anyone at home when infected.
  • Wash your clothes, towel, handkerchiefs etc. in hot water.
  • Wear normal spectacles instead of contact lenses while infected.
  • If your child is infected, seek medical attention immediately, and don't let the child attend school till cured.
  • Maintain good hygiene (whether infected or not, good hygiene must always be maintained)
There are many home remedies for treating conjunctivitis, but it is always advisable to consult and let your physician decide on the course of treatment. Just ignoring and waiting for it to be cured on its own could lead to serious eye damage.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.