Conjunctivitis (kun-junk-tuh-vi-tis), or pink eye, is an inflammation of the thin layer of tissue that covers the inner sides of the lids and the white of the eyeball.  The commonest causes are allergies, and infectious agents such as certain types of viruses and bacteria. Allergic conjunctivitis is associated with non-tender swelling and itchiness.  The symptoms of an infection include a pussy discharge, crustiness of the lids, and at times a feeling that something is in the eye. Mechanical and chemical irritants such as dust and air pollution can also cause a pink eye.   As a general rule conjunctivitis does not significantly affect vision, cause photophobia (light sensitivity) or become painful. When visual loss, photophobia, or pain occur, it is important to see an ophthalmologist as other more serious ocular problems can mimic conjunctivitis.

    Patients who wear contact lenses should discontinue them when the eyes are red. Once you are better, disinfect the lenses with fresh solution and use a container you know is not contaminated.  Should you sleep while wearing the contact lenses, remove them promptly whenever conjunctivitis develops. See an ophthalmologist without delay if the eye becomes painful, as serious ocular infections are more common in people who wear contacts when asleep. 

     Conjunctivitis is usually a self-limited disease, meaning that it will spontaneously improve if the instigating factors are removed.  If you make a diagnosis of conjunctivitis and it does not resolve within a few days visit a physician.  Treatment will often speed resolution and the therapy for conjunctivitis is dependent upon its cause. Allergic conjunctivitis can be treated by a variety of anti histamine eye drops, some of which are available over the counter. Cold packs will often ameliorate the itchiness and swelling associated with the allergy.   A pink eye caused by bacterial infections is best treated with antibiotic drops. If the lids are crusty and stuck together a warm cloth will dissolve the discharge and speed healing. All types of conjunctivitis get better faster when there is no crusty material on the lids and eyelashes. 

    When the infection is over, discard any eye drops as the tip of the bottle may have touched the lids and become contaminated.  Dispose of makeup after a bout of significant conjunctivitis as it likewise can become contaminated.  Hand washing is important because infectious conjunctivitis is spread by direct contact. When a bacteria or virus causes the conjunctivitis, the fellow eye or a close family member is at risk.

This page was last updated on 06/22/23