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Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis) - Overview

Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, is a common medical condition that is characterized by inflammation of a part of the eye known as the conjunctiva. In many cases, specific medications, generally in the form of pink eye drops, are needed to treat pink eye. People who have pink eye symptoms can use Push Health to connect with a medical provider who can prescribe pink eye treatments, including generic pink eye drops and other pink eye medications, when appropriate to do so.

What Is Pink Eye?

Pink eye (conjunctivitis) is a condition in which the conjunctiva - the mucous membrane surface on the whites of the eyes and on the inner surface of the eyelids - becomes inflamed. Pink eye is very common and it is estimated that approximately 6 million people suffer from acute conjunctivitis in the United States every year and cases tend to be more frequent during winter months. Pink eye can be caused by a number of things but the most common causes are bacteria, viruses and allergens. Bacteria that can lead to pink eye infections include Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae, Moraxella catarrhalis, Chlamydia trachomatis and Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Many types of viruses (e.g. adenovirus) can lead to pink eye infections and these types of pink eye infections are very contagious.

How Do You Get Pink Eye?

The mechanism by which one gets a pink eye infection depends on the underlying cause. Pink eye caused by viruses and bacteria are very contagious, making the likely underlying cause to be related to catching pink eye from another person who transmitted the bacteria or virus. Other types of pink eye (e.g. allergic conjunctivitis or conjunctivitis caused by irritants) can result from exposure to irritating substances such as pollen, dust mites, contact lenses and smoke.

Symptoms of Pink Eye

Pink eye can cause a variety of symptoms. As expected from the name, one of the most common symptoms associated with conjunctivitis is a pink hue in the white part of the eye. Other pink eye symptoms include increased tear production, the sensation of a foreign body, itching, eye discharge and crusting, and swelling of the conjunctiva. Pink eye symptoms are generally mild but can be quite bothersome at times.

Pink Eye - Treatment

Treatment for pink eye depends on the underlying cause. When pink eye is caused by environmental causes, removing the offending agent is key to reducing ongoing symptoms and giving the eye time to heal. When pink eye is caused by viral conjunctivitis, the usual treatment is watchful waiting as the pink eye symptoms will generally resolve on their own in three weeks or less. Bacterial causes of pink eye, on the other hand, often need more aggressive treatment with pink eye drops and medications containing antibiotics which generally help resolve the symptoms in under two weeks. It can be difficult to discern whether one has viral or bacterial pink eye which is why some clinicians will treat questionable cases with medications to avoid complications.

Pink Eye Medications

Medications prescribed for pink eye depend on the underlying cause. Bacterial conjunctivitis is usually treated with antibiotic eye drops. Other types of medications may also be used to help support the eye as the pink eye is resolving. Examples of medications that might be used in the setting of pink eye symptoms include the following:

Prevention is also important to reducing the risk of pink eye and, when present, limiting its spread. Preventative measures when dealing with conjunctivitis include washing hands with soap and water frequently and thoroughly, avoiding touching or rubbing the eyes, using glasses instead of contact lenses, and washing clothing and pillowcases frequently.

Pink Eye Medications - Side Effects

When medications are used for pink eye treatment, they can cause side effects. Side effects that can occur from pink eye drops include burning, stinging, blurriness, pain, and visual changes. When oral medications are prescribed for conjunctivitis, they can cause dizziness, dry mouth, blurry vision, difficulty urinating and mood changes. Alcohol should not be used at the same time as medications prescribed for pink eye. Prior to taking pink eye medicines, it is important to discuss potential side effects with a qualified medical practitioner.

More Conjunctivitis Resources

Last updated April 28, 2022. Given the evolving nature of medicine and science, this information might not be accurate and should not be construed as medical advice or diagnosis / treatment recommendations. Please consult a licensed medical provider if you have additional questions. Please call 911 immediately or go to the nearest emergency room if you believe you are experiencing a medical emergency.