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A Guide to Pink Eye

man rubbing his eye

Reviewed by: Amy Hinshaw

Whether you contracted it through bacterial contact, an allergic reaction or another source, dealing with conjunctivitis, or pink eye, is highly inconvenient. No one enjoys itchy, watery eyes or swollen eyelids.

Thankfully, this guide will answer some common questions about this condition, such as how it spreads, who to see for treatment and how to know if your pink eye is healing.

What Does Pink Eye Look Like?

Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva β€” the thin, clear tissue lining your inner eyelid and the white portion of your eyeball. This infection makes the blood vessels in your eye more visible, hence the name β€œpink eye.”

How Does Pink Eye Spread?

Pink eye can spread in multiple ways. Below are three primary types of conjunctivitis:

1. Bacterial

Bacterial pink eye spreads by direct contact with bacteria-contaminated hands or objects. It can also result from improper contact lens use. Types of conjunctivitis-causing bacteria include staphylococcus aureus, Haemophilus influenzae, streptococcus pneumoniae and others.

Bacterial conjunctivitis is extremely contagious, spreading easily among family members or children in school settings. For instance, bacteria may transmit when an infected individual touches their eye, then touches a door handle. Sharing objects like pillowcases, towels and blankets can also spread bacterial conjunctivitis.

2. Viral

Viral conjunctivitis usually stems from a virus that causes common colds. Viral infections comprise about 80% of pink eye cases, with adenovirus being the most common pathogen.

A person might show conjunctivitis symptoms alone, or they may experience additional cold symptoms like a runny nose, sore throat or swollen lymph nodes. Like bacterial pink eye, viral conjunctivitis is highly contagious.

3. Allergic

An allergic reaction to dust, animal dander, mold, pollen, smoke or other substances can trigger conjunctivitis. Louisiana, for example, has a variety of highly allergenic trees, grass and weeds. Due to the area’s high heat and humidity, mold and dust mites often induce indoor allergies, as well.

Some skin- and eye-care products, perfumes and medications contain preservative chemicals that can also cause reactions. Allergic conjunctivitis isn’t normally contagious.

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Early-Stage Pink Eye Symptoms

The typical signs and symptoms of conjunctivitis include:

  • Light pink to red discoloration in the eye.
  • Crusting in the eyelids or eyelashes, especially in the morning.
  • Swollen, puffy or droopy eyelids.
  • Increased tear production.
  • Itchiness, burning and general irritation.
  • Discharge of pus or mucus from the infected eye.

How Long Does Pink Eye Last?


Most cases of pink eye are mild and clear up in one to two weeks on their own. However, some viral infections can take three weeks or longer to heal. Certain home-care remedies can help relieve symptoms and speed up recovery.

How to Get Rid of Pink Eye

While conjunctivitis usually heals on its own without treatment, you can practice some self-care measures to combat dryness, swelling and other symptoms. Here are some ways to alleviate pink eye:

  • Cold or warm compress: Applying a warm, moist compress to the infected eye can reduce swelling and inflammation. Additionally, a cold pack can relieve burning, itchiness and irritation.
  • Eye drops: Nonprescription lubricating eye drops or artificial tears may help relieve symptoms. Be sure to throw the bottle away after use, so no one else touches it.
  • Wet cloth: Use a wet washcloth or paper towel to clean discharge or fluid from your infected eye.
  • Avoid contact lenses: If you wear contact lenses, it’s best not to use them until your infection clears up. Wearing contact lenses while you have conjunctivitis can delay recovery and increase the risk of spreading.

To avoid transmitting the infection, be sure to stay home from work or school until your pink eye resolves. You should also avoid swimming while you have conjunctivitis. The viral and bacterial types of pink eye are incredibly contagious, so they can easily spread to others in pools, even in chlorinated water.

If your conjunctivitis symptoms persist or worsen beyond two weeks of home treatments, you may need medical care.

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Do Eye Doctors Treat Pink Eye?

Who do you go to for pink eye in severe or ongoing cases? Most optometrists treat pink eye, but consulting an eye doctor right away isn’t always necessary. Regular primary care physicians can treat most cases of conjunctivitis.

Urgent care is another option. A medical provider at an urgent clinic can help accelerate healing and prevent future flare-ups. Further, you usually receive quicker treatment at these facilities than in traditional emergency rooms and hospitals.

You should seek medical care for pink eye if you experience the following:

  • Continued or aggravated symptoms after two weeks.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Moderate to severe eye pain.
  • A weakened immune system from other medical conditions or treatments.
  • Increased sensitivity to light.
  • Severe eye redness, discharge or crustiness.

Medical Treatments for Conjunctivitis

Your provider can determine an appropriate treatment plan based on the cause, symptoms and severity of your infection. This treatment could include one or multiple remedies like water flushes, prescription eye drops, pills or ointments.

Here are some common treatments for different infection types:

  • Bacterial: Your health care provider may prescribe an antibiotic β€” usually as an ointment or eye drops β€” for bacterial conjunctivitis.
  • Viral: Prescription antiviral medication can treat severe cases of viral conjunctivitis, such as those caused by varicella-zoster or herpes simplex virus.
  • Allergic: Your provider may prescribe special eye drops or allergy medications, such as topical vasoconstrictors and antihistamines, to relieve allergic conjunctivitis.

Pink Eye Prevention Tips

Once your infection heals, certain precautionary measures can help prevent it from returning and spreading. Here are some general tips to keep in mind:

  • Throw away anything that came in contact with your eyes while you were infected, like disposable contact lenses and solution, eye makeup and makeup applicators.
  • Avoid touching and rubbing your eyes.
  • Clean glasses, hard contact lenses and cases thoroughly and regularly.
  • Wash bedding, washcloths and towels in hot water after use.
  • Wash and change pillowcases regularly.
  • Wash your hands after exposure to an infected person, and before and after putting in contact lenses.
  • Avoid sharing items like pillowcases, towels and makeup brushes.

Contact Us For More Information

Visit SouthStar Urgent Care for Pink Eye Relief

If your conjunctivitis isn’t resolving with self-care methods, SouthStar Urgent Care in Louisiana is here for you. Our centers are open seven days a week, and we provide extended hours to accommodate your schedule.

To reduce the waiting times you’d normally encounter in a hospital or emergency room, we have multiple exam rooms and take walk-ins. We also accept many major insurance providers.

Our team is devoted to providing compassionate, world-class care for every client that comes through our door. If you’re seeking relief from pink eye symptoms, we can help. Find a clinic near you to begin treatment!