5 Pink Eye Symptoms To Watch For

Rosy or crimson eyes are the telltale symptom of this sometimes contagious condition. Here are five ways to tell if you may have pink eye.

First, your eye feels scratchy or uncomfortable. Next, you might notice redness, swelling, or discharge. In that case, you may be experiencing symptoms of conjunctivitis. Although, most people commonly refer to the condition as pink eye.

Here's what you should know about pink eye symptoms, as well as some of the most common causes of the condition, treatments, and when to see a healthcare provider.

What Is Pink Eye?

Pink eye occurs when the conjunctiva becomes irritated or infected. The conjunctiva is the thin, smooth layer of tissue lining the surface of your eye and the inside of your eyelid.

Bacterial or viral types of conjunctivitis spread easily between people. If you have pink eye, avoid sharing pillowcases, towels, and makeup to keep the infection from spreading.

Typically, you can treat simple cases of pink eye at home with over-the-counter (OTC) artificial tears and cold compresses. But in severe cases, you may need prescription eye drops or medications.

What Causes Pink Eye?

Most often, viruses, bacteria, or allergens cause pink eye. Other causes of pink eye include:

  • Chemicals
  • Wearing contact lenses
  • Foreign object in the eye
  • Air pollution, like smoke, dust, fumes, chemical vapors
  • Fungi
  • Amoeba and parasites

Pink Eye Symptoms

Pink eye symptoms are usually mild. However, pink eye may affect and threaten your vision in severe cases. 

With mild cases of pink eye, symptoms usually clear up within a few days. Severe cases may require prescription antibacterial or antiviral medicines.

Eye Irritation

Some of the most common symptoms of pink eye include eye irritation, which includes burning and itching. Those symptoms may be bothersome but are rarely painful. For example, eye irritation might cause trouble wearing contact lenses.

Itching is more likely to occur with allergic conjunctivitis than other types of pink eye. Exposure to allergens, such as pet dander, pollen, or wildfire smoke, cause allergic conjunctivitis.

Also, some people with pink eye describe a gritty sensation. That sensation may cause discomfort and feel like a foreign body is in one or both eyes.

Eye Redness

As the name suggests, the whites of your eye may appear rosy or crimson with pink eye. The condition causes the inflamed conjunctiva to have more visible blood vessels.

Typically, eye redness is one of the first distinct signs of pink eye that adults notice in newborns and infants. In newborns, eyelid swelling and a pus-like discharge may accompany eye redness. 

Pink eye in newborns can be serious. So, talk with a healthcare provider or a pediatric ophthalmologist right away if you spot those symptoms.

Secretion Discharge

Your conjunctiva is made of the same type of smooth, mucus-producing tissue that lines your nose and mouth. Much the way your nose drips and your mouth waters, the inflamed tissue produces secretions.

Those secretions range from watery to pus-like, depending on the cause of your pink eye. And in some cases, the lashes may stick together.

Watery or thick discharge may also blur your vision. Changes to your eyesight that don't resolve after rinsing your eyes with artificial tears may signify a more serious case of pink eye. In that instance, consult a healthcare provider.

Eye Swelling

The conjunctiva may appear puffy, and your eyelids can swell. You may also notice lumpiness in the lymph nodes around your ears. With viral conjunctivitis, that lumpiness means that your immune system is working hard to fight off the invaders.

Vision Changes

Most pink eye cases don't affect your eyesight. But severe cases may cause scarring on the cornea that can permanently alter your vision.

Signs of severe cases of pink eye include blurry vision and an inability to tolerate bright light. Those symptoms could mean that the infection has spread beyond the conjunctiva. In that instance, visit a healthcare provider.

Treatment for Pink Eye

Healing time depends on the type of conjunctivitis. Usually, pink eye gets better on its own after two days and up to two weeks. In the meantime, you can use artificial tears and cold compresses to help with swelling and redness.

Treatment for the more severe forms of pink eye might include:

  • Antiviral medications
  • Antibiotic eye drops
  • Antibiotic ointments

Those medications can treat the condition and prevent long-term complications.

When To See a Healthcare Provider

It's always best to err on the safe side. So, call a healthcare provider if you have the following:

  • Moderate to severe pain in your eyes
  • Blurry vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Intense redness in your eyes
  • More mucus than usual in your eyes during the day or after waking up
  • Symptoms that don't improve after several days
  • A condition that weakens your immune system, like human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or cancer

A Quick Review

Pink eye occurs when the thin, smooth layer of tissue lining the surface of your eye and the inside of your eyelid becomes irritated or infected. The most common causes of pink eye are viruses, bacteria, and allergens. 

You can usually treat pink eye at home. Symptoms typically go away on their own, But if you develop a severe form of pink eye, call a healthcare provider to get the right treatment.

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