Are My Red, Irritated Eyes from Pinkeye?

Are your eyes red, tearing, and sensitive to light? Are they matted shut when you wake up in the morning and have drainage in the corners of your eyes throughout the day? Are they itchy all day long? If so, you may have a condition called conjunctivitis, otherwise know as pinkeye. Pinkeye is the inflammation of the lining (conjunctiva) of the eye. It can be caused by a virus, a bacteria, or due to allergies. Pinkeye is highly contagious and can be passed from person to person by touch.

Common Pinkeye Symptoms

The symptoms of pinkeye depend on the cause which can be from a bacteria, a virus, or from allergies. Although the symptoms may vary due to the cause, they all have the same characteristic symptoms of red eye/eyes, tearing, and irritation (feels gritty or like there is something in your eye).

Viral Symptoms:

  • Redness of whites of one or both eyes
  • Watery discharge
  • No sensitivity to light
  • No blurry vision

Allergic Symptoms:

  • Redness of whites of both eyes
  • Stringy mucus from the corners of eyes
  • Itchy eyes
  • Tearing & watery discharge
  • Sneezing, itchy ears & throat usually accompany allergic pinkeye

Bacterial Symptoms:

  • Redness of whites of one or both eyes
  • Brown/yellow/green drainage from corners of eyes
  • Eyes matted shut upon waking up
  • Tearing
  • Blurry vision
  • Eyes are sensitive to light, especially sunlight

Who is at Risk for Pinkeye?

Pinkeye is a common illness and is the reason people often visit the doctor. You are more at risk to develop pinkeye if you wear contact lenses, if you have had exposure to an individual with known pinkeye, or if you are currently getting over a cold. You are also at risk for pinkeye if you have a child who is in daycare or elementary school.

What Will My Doctor Ask me?

The doctor will ask you several questions during your visit. They will ask you:

  • How long you have had the symptoms and when you first noticed them
  • If one or both eyes are involved and if you have any tearing or drainage coming from your eyes
  • If you have been in contact with anyone that has or has had pinkeye
  • If you wear contact lenses, how often you clean them, how long you wear them at a time, and how often you clean or get a new contact lens case
  • If you or your family has a history of seasonal allergies/hay fever
  • If you are experiencing any eye pain, sensitivity to light, or any blurred vision
  • If you have any medical history pertaining to your eyes or if you are currently taking any medication and if they are for your eyes

What is the Treatment for Pinkeye?

If your doctor determines you have viral pinkeye, it will resolve on its own in a few days. They may prescribe you soothing eye drops to help your irritated and red eyes. They will also discuss the importance of washing your hands after touching your eyes as viral pinkeye is contagious for seven days after you notice the symptoms start.

Viral Pinkeye Treatment

If your doctor determines you have viral pinkeye, it will resolve on its own in a few days. They may prescribe you soothing eye drops to help your irritated and red eyes. They will also discuss the importance of washing your hands after touching your eyes as viral pinkeye is contagious for seven days after you notice the symptoms start.

Bacterial Pinkeye Treatment

If your doctor determines you have bacterial pinkeye, you will be given antibiotic eye drops to kill the bacteria in your eye or eyes. It is critical to wash your hands often and especially after touching your eyes. If you have pinkeye in only one eye, you could accidentally transfer it over to the other eye by touching the infected eye and then rubbing the good eye. You are still contagious for 24-48 hours after starting the eye drops. Your doctor may also recommend using a warm washcloth to your eye or eyes four times a day to draw out the discharge from your eye and soothe the irritation that is occurring.

Allergic Pinkeye Treatment

If your doctor determines you have allergic pinkeye, they may prescribe an oral antihistamine such as Benadryl, Zyrtec, or Claritin for the itch as well as soothing eye drops to help with the redness, watery discharge, and itching. They may also prescribe an antihistamine eye drop as well. Lastly, they may recommend a cool washcloth to your eyes four times a day as cooling reduces itch and irritation.

What Do I Need to Know About Pinkeye? - Patient Education

  • If you are given any eye drops, use them correctly by pulling your bottom eyelid down and out to make a pocket. Instill the eye drop in the pocket.
  • Make sure you throw away any contact lenses or eye makeup that you were using when the symptoms developed.
  • Do not share any cosmetics or eyewear with anyone.
  • Make sure to avoid touching or rubbing your eyes and if you do, immediately wash your hands.
  • Wash any pillowcases, washrags, towels, face masks, eyeglasses, protective eyewear, or anything else that may have come in contact with your eyes.
  • Know that you are contagious for 24-48 hours after the antibiotic drops are started and for one week after viral symptoms started.
  • Avoid swimming in a swimming pool until your symptoms have resolved completely.
  • Use all the antibiotics that were prescribed to you by your doctor. If you do not, the bacteria will not be completely killed and will come back.

Emergency Warning Signs/When to Follow Up

If you have had no improvement in 24-48 hours after starting the antibiotic eye drops or if your symptoms persist or worsen in any way, you need to follow-up with your eye doctor or your regular doctor right away. If you notice any new pain in your eye, you have areas of your vision that are black, or your eyeball swells, follow-up with your eye doctor or go to the emergency room immediately.

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