Published: 2023-05-16

What is Conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis, often called 'pink eye', is an inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is the outer, normally clear covering of the sclera (the white part of the eye). The eye appears pink when you have conjunctivitis because the blood vessels of the conjunctiva are dilated. Pink eye is generally accompanied by discharge, but vision is normal and discomfort is often mild.

What Causes Conjunctivitis?

There are two kinds of conjunctivitis, viral and bacterial. Viral conjunctivitis is much more common and is sometimes accompanied by a respiratory infection (common cold). Generally, this type of conjunctivitis is not cured by prescription medicine, but can be treated with over-the-counter eye drops and cool compresses until the infection runs its course. Bacterial conjunctivitis can be treated with antibiotic eye drops and ointments, and will usually clear up within a few days.

Conjunctivitis is extremely contagious, and if you have it you should not share towels or pillowcases with anyone, and you should also wash your hands frequently. It may also be a good idea to stay home from school or work to prevent it from spreading. You should also stay out of swimming pools if you have it.

Seasonal allergies can also cause conjunctivitis, especially around spring and fall. Conjunctivitis caused by allergies usually results in itchy eyes. Some conditions create symptoms similar to conjunctivitis. It is very important to see your eye doctor if you have any of these symptoms, as it is possible it's something worse than conjunctivitis. Serious conditions that can be mistaken for conjunctivitis include:

  • very severe glaucoma
  • damage to the cornea
  • other infections

If you notice any of these symptoms, to schedule an exam.