Pink eye is another name for conjunctivitis. It is caused by inflammation of the outer layer of the eye and inside of the eyelid that causes the eye to turn pink. It can be highly contagious, and it is important to diagnose the exact cause to ensure the right treatment.
What is conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis means the white of the eye is pink due to inflammation of the clear covering over it (the conjuctivae).
If you have pink eye, you might also:
- have tears
- have a discharge, usually yellow or green, and crusty lashes, usually worse on waking
- have itchy or burning eyes
- be sensitive to light
Check your symptoms with healthdirect’s Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.
Causes of conjunctivitis
Conjunctivitis can be caused by:
- bacterial infection
- viral infection
- irritants such as dust or chemicals
- a foreign body (such as sand or a small piece of rock)
- a blocked tear duct (in babies)
Conjunctivitis caused by viral or bacterial infection is highly contagious.
Your doctor will talk to you and will examine you, especially your eyes.
Your doctor might take a sample of the secretions from your eye.
The treatment for conjunctivitis depends on the cause.
Viral infections improve without treatment, but bacterial infections require antibiotic eye drops. It can be difficult to tell them apart.
Allergic conjunctivitis is treated with antihistamine drops or tablets, and conjunctivitis due to irritants may be helped by anti-inflammatory drops.
If you have a foreign body in your eye, your doctor will need to remove it.
While adults can develop conjunctivitis, it is much more common among children. It is often contagious.
People with conjunctivitis should try not to touch their eyes, and should wash their hands regularly. This will reduce the risk of it spreading.
People using contact lenses should change them regularly.
People working with an irritant or in a dusty environment should wear eye protection. Learn more about eye care.
When to see a doctor
Whenever you have a conjunctivitis with any other symptoms, see your doctor if it doesn’t improve within hours.
Should I keep my child home from school?
Here’s a list of common childhood illnesses, including conjunctivitis, and their recommended exclusion periods.
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Last reviewed: November 2017