Last Updated on Nov 29, 2014

What is Pink Eye?

Pink eye is highly contagious if it is of an infectious origin, while allergic pink eye or a pink eye of a non-infectious origin is not contagious.

A detailed history, clinical presentation and slit lamp examination of the eye by an ophthalmologist are useful in concluding on the cause for conjunctivitis.

Factors that Cause a Pink Eye

  • Infections (bacterial or viral)
  • Allergies
  • Chemicals, smoke
  • Cold/heat
  • Dry climates

Symptoms of a Pink Eye

  • Redness of the eye and inner surface of eyelid
  • Burning and itching of the eyes
  • Excess tearing from the eyes
  • Increased photosensitivity
  • Discharge from the eye (white/yellow/green)
  • Sensation of a foreign body in the eye
  • Swollen eyelids

Some of the conditions that present with a pink eye are:

  • Viral Conjunctivitis: It is often accompanied by common cold or sore throat. It presents with watery discharge, photosensitivity, itching, redness in the eye and swollen eyelid. Most commonly adenoviruses, picorna, herpes simplex, varicella zoster, HIV and pox viruses are the agents that can cause a pink eye. It is highly contagious and remains contagious for at least one week followed by gradual resolution of symptoms. Usually, no treatment is required as it resolves on its own. Warm compresses are helpful in relieving sticky eyes. In severe cases antiviral drugs are used.
  • Bacterial Conjunctivitis: It may be caused by staphylococci, streptococci, gonococci or chlamydia. It is contagious. Symptoms are more severe than viral conjunctivitis. It may present with pain and swelling in the eye, thick green/yellow discharge, itching and swollen lymph nodes in front of the ears. Treatment is with antibiotic eye drops and if required oral antibiotics are also prescribed to cope with infection.
  • Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis: It usually occurs in soft contact lens wearers and is not contagious. It may be due to prolonged use of contact lenses or due to the immune response to deposits over the contact lenses or a reaction to contact lens cleaning solutions. Common symptoms include excessive tears with large amounts of discharge from the eye, unable to tolerate contact lenses, itching and red bumps on the inner side of the eyelid. History and examination are helpful in concluding the cause. Treatment involves cessation of use of soft lenses. Daily disposable or rigid gas permeable lenses are advised.
  • Allergic Conjunctivitis: It is non – contagious. It could be an allergic response to common allergens like animal fur, pollen, dust or even to an eye medication that is used frequently. Avoiding the use of that particular medication or avoiding exposure to allergens reduces the chance of recurrence. Presentation is with itching, redness, puffy eyes and eyelids. Decongestant eye drops and cold compress over the eye provide relief.
  • Vernal Conjunctivitis: It usually runs in families with history of asthma, and allergies. Common symptoms include burning sensation in the eye with watery discharge, photosensitivity, bumps on the inner side of the eyelid, or around the cornea. Diagnosis is on the basis of examination of the eye. Treatment is done using cold compress, lubricating eye drops and if required antihistamine eye drops and mild steroids.

Treatment is based on the cause of conjunctivitis. Viral conjunctivitis subsides on its own within 7-10 days. Bacterial conjunctivitis can be treated with antibiotic eye drops if it is severe and is showing no signs of improvement within a week. Antihistamines are useful in allergic conjunctivitis.

Prevention of pink eye can be done with simple measures like good hygiene, avoiding school for kids until the redness in the eye subsides, avoiding eye makeup if infected, ensuring proper cleaning of contact lenses and avoiding sharing eye care cosmetics.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is pink eye contagious? If yes, for how long?

Yes. Pink eye of infectious origin is contagious till the redness subsides, which is usually until 7-10 days. If the pink eye has developed due to allergic or chemical cause, then it is not contagious.

2. What does a chronic pink eye suggest?

It suggests of an underlying medical condition, most often rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, Kawasaki disease etc.

3. What measures can you take to limit the spread of conjunctivitis?

Wash hands regularly and do not touch the infected eye.

4. Can you get pink eye if you are allergic?

Yes. There are chances of being infected with pink eye more frequently if you have history of allergies.


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