Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is the term used to describe swelling (inflammation) of the conjunctiva — the thin, filmy membrane that covers the inside of your eyelids and the white part of your eye. It can be detected and treated by visiting an eye doctor.
The conjunctiva, which contains tiny blood vessels, produces mucus to keep the surface of your eye moist and protected. When the conjunctiva becomes irritated or swollen, the blood vessels become larger and more prominent, making your eye appear red. Signs of pink eye may occur in one or both eyes.
The hallmark sign of pink eye is a pink or reddish appearance to the eye due to inflammation and dilation of conjunctival blood vessels. Depending on the type of conjunctivitis, signs and symptoms can vary. Common symptoms include:
- Red, itchy, watery and burning eyes
- A thick discharge crusting the eye shut upon awakening
- Yellow or green mucous
- Blurry vision
- Sensitivity to light and pain
- A “sandy” feeling in the eye
- Puffy eyelids
How can you tell what type of pink eye you have? The way your eyes feel will provide some clues:
- Viral conjunctivitis usually causes excessive eye watering and a light discharge. The most common cause is the same virus as the common cold, and it is very contagious
- Bacterial conjunctivitis often causes a red eye and thick, sticky discharge, sometimes greenish. It is highly contagious and caused by bacterial infections
- Allergic conjunctivitis affects both eyes and causes itching and redness in the eyes and sometimes the nose, as well as excessive tearing. It is a reaction to an irritant and is not contagious.
- Giant papillary conjunctivitis (GPC) usually affects both eyes and causes contact lens intolerance, itching, a heavy discharge, tearing and red bumps on the underside of the eyelids.
It can often be difficult to tell the type of conjunctivitis you have by symptoms alone. Your eye doctor will usually prescribe antibiotics for the more severe form of pink eye or allergy medications. For these reasons, anytime you develop red, irritated eyes, you should call your eye doctor immediately and schedule an eye exam.
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