What Is Conjunctivitis?

Young woman using eye drops at desk

Conjunctivitis, or “pink eye,” is a common disease that may affect one or both eyes. It is called “pink eye” because it can cause the white of the eye to become pink or red. It may be highly contagious and can sometimes develop into a more severe condition.

Symptoms of conjunctivitis can vary but may include:

  • A pink or red color in the white of the eye(s)
  • Itchy, watery, or burning eyes
  • Painful eyes
  • Puffy eyelids
  • Discharge from the eye(s)
  • Crusting of eyelids or lashes
  • Blurry or hazy vision
  • Increased sensitivity to light

Causes of Conjunctivitis

There are three main types of conjunctivitis: Allergic, infectious, and chemical. The causes of conjunctivitis can vary depending on the type.

Allergic conjunctivitis often occurs in individuals who have seasonal allergies. It can result from the body’s reaction to allergens such as pollen, dander from pets, molds, cosmetics, or medicines.

There are two types of infectious conjunctivitis: Bacterial and viral. Bacterial conjunctivitis is an infection of the eye caused by certain bacteria. It can be spread through physical contact, exposure to contaminated surfaces, or sinus or ear infections. Viral conjunctivitis is an eye infection often caused by viruses associated with the common cold. Viral conjunctivitis is highly infectious and can develop through exposure to individuals with the disease.

Chemical conjunctivitis is not infectious and can be caused by getting irritants such as air pollution, smoke, liquids, or chemicals in the eye. If this happens, it is essential to immediately flush the eye with water.

Treatment for Conjunctivitis

Treatment for conjunctivitis generally depends on the type. Bacterial conjunctivitis is often treated with antibiotic eye drops prescribed by an eye care professional. If you have allergic conjunctivitis, you may be told to use eye drops that help reduce itchiness or puffiness. If you have chemical conjunctivitis, you should immediately rinse the eye free of the substance and contact an eye care professional.

Reducing the Spread of Conjunctivitis

Certain types of conjunctivitis can be highly contagious. Practicing good hygiene if you have an infection is critical to reducing the risk of infecting others or re-infecting yourself.

  • Do not touch your eyes with your hands.
  • Always use a clean towel or tissue when you wipe your face and eyes.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently, especially after you sneeze or touch your face.
  • Do not use makeup while you have an eye infection. Never share makeup with others. Replace your makeup if you have an eye infection.
  • Follow the recommendations of your eye care professional for proper contact lens care.


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