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Pink Eye Symptoms & Treatment Options

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Conjunctivitis, more commonly known as pink eye, is an inflammation or infection that affects the eyes. The most apparent pink eye symptoms include a pink to reddish color in the whites of the eyes, but there’s so much more to know and understand about this eye condition.

man rubbing his eyes

How Do You Get Pink Eye?

Pink eye is highly contagious in certain forms but rarely serious. The common cold, exposure to bacteria, even common irritants like smoke, debris or the wrong eye drops can cause a pink eye infection. There has been a link between pink eye and COVID-19 infections.

There are three main types of pink eye.

Viral conjunctivitis:

Viral pink eye is most often caused by the common cold, flu or a respiratory infection. One or both eyes may be affected, and any discharge you see is more watery than in a bacterial case.

Bacterial conjunctivitis:

Bacterial conjunctivitis is spread by direct contact, namely rubbing your eyes after touching something infected by the bacteria. Pink eye caused by bacteria is most commonly associated with a thicker discharge that can cause the eyelids to get stuck together. One or both eyes may be affected. Certain sexually transmitted diseases can put you at risk for more severe cases of bacterial conjunctivitis. 

Allergic conjunctivitis:

Pink eye can also result from an allergic reaction, in which case it’s likely to affect both eyes. You’ll probably also see additional symptoms related to allergies, such as a runny nose and scratchy throat, on top of pink eye symptoms if you’re dealing with allergic conjunctivitis. Pink eye caused by allergies is similar to an infection caused by common irritants or debris in the eye.

Pink eye symptoms will differ somewhat based on the cause of the infection, but there are things to watch for if you think you may have pink eye.

Pink Eye Symptoms

Apart from the tell-tale reddish-pink color in the whites of the eyes, pink eye symptoms can include the following:

  • Swelling of the eyelids and the conjunctiva, the membrane lining the front of the eye and inner eyelid
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Burning or stinging in the eyes
  • Discharge from the infected eye that can cause a crust to form overnight
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Eye discomfort, or a feeling that a foreign body is in the eye
  • Blurred vision
  • Swollen lymph nodes if dealing with a viral form

The severity of your symptoms can affect how you should treat your case of pink eye and how long your infection will last.

Child with pink eye

How Long Does Pink Eye Last?

How long an infection will last depends on the kind of pink eye you’re treating and how severe your infection is. A typical recovery lasts anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Starting treatment as soon as you notice pink eye symptoms will shorten your recovery time.

Pink Eye Treatment Options

Your pink eye treatment in Los Angeles will depend on the kind of infection you’re dealing with. You may be prescribed a course of antibiotics, likely as eye drops, for bacterial pink eye. Take the entire course of treatment to prevent reinfection or spreading the infection to someone else.

Viral conjunctivitis, the most common type of pink eye, is usually treated by making you more comfortable as the infection runs its course. There are no antibiotics that will stop a viral case in its tracks. 

Common treatment options for viral conjunctivitis include warm compresses applied to the eye to relieve eye pain and clear away discharge, artificial tears and practicing even more aggressive hygiene habits to prevent the infection from spreading to the other eye or others. If you wear contact lenses, you’ll need to wear glasses instead until your infection has cleared up. 

Antihistamines and over-the-counter eye drops may help relieve the symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis. Still, you may have trouble with itchy, watery eyes as long as you’re exposed to whatever caused the allergic reaction.

person using eye drops to treat pink eye symptoms

Preventing the Spread of Pink Eye

If you’re dealing with a contagious form of pink eye that wasn’t caused by something in your eye or seasonal allergies, there are steps you should be taking to prevent it from spreading to someone else. A hallmark of pink eye is that it is highly contagious, especially in children.

If you already have pink eye, follow these steps to prevent the spread of the infection:

  • Avoid rubbing or touching your eyes. If you use a cotton ball or pad to clean out your eye, dispose of it immediately and wash your hands immediately after.
  • Wash your hands frequently, or use hand sanitizer when you don’t have easy access to soap and water.
  • Avoid sharing towels or anything that may touch your face with others. Switch out towels, washcloths and pillowcases daily until the infection has cleared.
  • Do not share makeup or any tools that may touch the eye. This includes contact lens cases and solutions. This has already been mentioned, but you should not be wearing contact lenses during an active infection.
Man washing his hands in a sink

When to Seek Help

If you think your newborn has pink eye, it’s best to see a doctor right away, as the infection can be severe in babies and a sign of not only infection but a blocked tear duct. 

See a medical professional sooner rather than later if you have any eye pain, extreme light sensitivity or additional symptoms on top of those we’ve already gone over. That can mean fever, fatigue or a change in vision affecting your day-to-day activities.

Pink eye symptoms won’t always mean pink eye, either. It can be a different kind of eye infection or a bad case of allergies that aren’t quite at the level of allergic conjunctivitis. 

In adults, pink eye usually isn’t serious, but you’ll shorten your recovery time dramatically if you address pink eye symptoms right away. If you’re not sure of the kind of infection you’re dealing with or aren’t sure whether you have pink eye at all, it’s always best to speak with a healthcare professional. 

Reliant offers urgent care virtual appointments if you’re not sure what your next steps should be. We’re here to get you feeling better fast, with quick and easy ways to reach our team of medical professionals both virtually and at several urgent care locations in Los Angeles.