Pink eye or conjunctivitis develops when the membrane that covers the inner part of the eyelids and the white of the eyes -- the conjunctiva -- becomes inflamed. The vessels in the conjunctiva dilate, which makes them more visible and turns the white part of the eye a pinkish color. Though pink eye can be irritating or painful and is quite visible, it is not usually a threat to vision.
A classic sign of conjunctivitis is pinkness or redness that develops in one or both eyes. It is very difficult to prevent the spread of conjunctivitis in an infected individual, so people with pink eye generally develop bacterial conjunctivitis first in one eye and then the other. The same is true of viral conjunctivitis. The virus usually spreads from one eye to the other by rubbing the infected eye. Pink eye can also be caused by an allergic reaction or eye irritation due to chemicals or other irritants. If the cause is allergic, both eyes are usually affected at the same time.
Pink eye may also cause the conjunctiva to swell, indicating inflammation. In many cases, the swelling is more felt than visible and may cause sensations similar to sand or dirt in the eye. Blinking can be irritating and tiring. Inflammation does not occur in every case of pink eye. If eye pain, difficulty seeing, or sensitivity to light develops, it is important to get an immediate medical evaluation. These can be signs of more serious eye conditions.
People with pink eye often experience excessive tearing. The eyes may water when individuals indulge in any visually strenuous activity, including watching TV, using a screen, and reading. Doctors usually recommend gently wiping away any eye discharge with a clean tissue and disposing of the tissue carefully to avoid further spreading the infection.
Itching and irritation often accompany red, swollen, watery eyes. Some people also experience a burning sensation in the affected eye that makes it difficult to avoid rubbing or touching the area. It is essential to avoid this urge, however, as this will only worsen symptoms and prolong the infection. In some cases, a doctor may prescribe eyedrops to alleviate some of the irritation and redness. Excessive itching is common with allergic conjunctivitis, although it can also occur with conjunctivitis caused by a virus or bacteria.
Another typical sensation accompanying other pink eye symptoms is a feeling of grittiness or a foreign body constantly irritating the eye. This is usually due to inflammation and should be one of the first symptoms to ease as the infection begins to improve.
In some cases of bacterial conjunctivitis, the infected individual will notice a white-grey discharge of pus and mucus. The release may accumulate in the corners of the eyes, sometimes clouding the vision intermittently. Upon diagnosis, the usual treatment of bacterial conjunctivitis is antibiotic eye drops, although some people may require oral antibiotics.
Discharge and excessive tearing can cause the fluids to form crusts on the eyes, particularly upon waking the morning. This crust can make it difficult to open the eye, in some cases. If this crusting does not pass in a few days, the affected individual should seek medical attention.
Sometimes, the lymph nodes at the front of the ear become inflamed and may become tender. This symptom is most common in cases of viral conjunctivitis, which is also the most contagious variety. When pink eye accompanies inflamed or sore lymph nodes, it is essential to take steps to prevent the spread of infection, and see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.
The onset of conjunctivitis may be preceded or followed by flu-like symptoms such as a runny nose, sinus congestion, and possibly a fever. These symptoms are likely to indicate a viral form of infection, which is most common during cold and flu season. Adenoviruses that cause some cold and upper respiratory symptoms can also cause pink eye. The first three to five days of the infection are generally the most symptomatic, though complete recovery can take up to two weeks.
Sometimes, the bacteria or virus responsible for pink eye may also affect the ear canal, causing a simultaneous ear infection. Earache is a common symptom of this infection and may develop prior to, during, or following the onset of conjunctivitis symptoms. The medication a doctor prescribes to treat the eye infection will not necessarily address the ear infection, so it is important to report all symptoms to a physician.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.