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Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is a common eye ailment defined as an infection or inflammation of the conjunctiva (the outermost layer of the eyeball), which causes it to becomes red or pink in color. Pink eye can be caused by bacterial infections, viruses, allergies, or contact-lens related problems.
Shaking hands or sharing towels and pillows with someone who is infected can also result in transmission of the disease. Other times, pink eye develops as a symptom of a systemic, body-wide disease—for example, pink eye is a symptom of chlamydia. Over-use of certain types of contact lenses, such as extended-wear lenses, or improperly cleaning contact lenses can also cause this condition. For the first ten days (or as long as there are symptoms), viral conjunctivitis is very contagious. Allergic conjunctivitis is non-contagious and is caused by common allergies such as animal dander, pollen, and dust. Most people can tolerate a moderate to high level of exposure to these preservatives, but others are more sensitive. Herpes simplex conjunctivitis is also caused by a virus, but it differs slightly from normal viral conjunctivitis.
Herpes simplex conjunctivitis also causes additional symptoms such as blisters on the conjunctiva or eyelids. Giant papillary conjunctivitis is a non-contagious conjunctivitis usually seen in people who wear soft contact lenses. Changing the cleaning solution may be helpful, but some patients need to stop wearing contact lenses for several weeks, or even forever.
Vernal conjunctivitis is usually found in people and families with a history of allergies, asthma, and eczema.
Epidemic keratoconjunctivitis is extremely contagious, and there are often large outbreaks in schools.
Symptoms of this type of conjunctivitis typically last for less than two weeks, and there is no treatment for it.
The infectious types of pink eye are the ones to be wary of because they can spread very easily, even just by touching or using an article that has been used by an infected person.


For example, a person who has pink eye and rubs his eyes and then uses the same hand to open a door could end up infecting someone else who touches that door.
This is why people—especially kids—who are diagnosed with pink eye are encouraged to stay home until the infection is cured in order to avoid passing the infection to other people. Other ways of passing the infection include sharing items like pillowcases, towels, and bathroom washcloths. If you are exhibiting symptoms of this condition it is very important to see your eye doctor for a proper diagnosis so that you can be treated appropriately.
Tearing is another prevalent symptom, as the eyes naturally produce more tears in order to relieve the discomfort. The slit lamp magnifies the surface of the eye and allows the eye doctor to see an inflamed conjunctiva, infected cornea, or infected anterior chamber (the front part of the eye). Viral conjunctivitis is harder to diagnose, and can be distinguished from bacterial conjunctivitis solely by its appearance, but this form of pink eye is usually accompanied by a cold symptoms or a sore throat.
Other times, such as with allergic conjunctivitis, the condition may disappear after removing the allergen.
Over-the-counter medications are all that is required for most cases of viral pink eye—the virus just needs to run its course, and medication is used just to soothe the symptoms.
You can contract viral or bacterial conjunctivitis simply by touching your eye after touching an infected surface or object such as a doorknob or shopping cart, or by using infected mascara or eye drops. If you are subject to seasonal allergies, you may experience pink eye during times of the year when pollen and other allergens fill the air.
The viral form is caused by the same virus as the common cold, and usually improves on its own over the course of seven to ten days. There are several types of bacteria that cause conjunctivitis, including gonorrhea, staphylococci, and streptococci. Those who use medicated eye drops regularly may develop eye-drop, or medica-mentosa conjunctivitis, which is caused by the preservatives in certain types of eye drops.
Although viral conjunctivitis can cause a burning sensation and pain, with herpes simplex conjunctivitis, the pain and burning may be unbearable. It can be sight-threatening if it spreads to the cornea, but anti-viral drops, ointments, and pills are available to treat this problem.


It is caused by an immunological response to contact lens deposits, or simply by over-wear of the lenses.
This type of conjunctivitis may require a contact-lens wearer to switch to a different type of contact lens.
This type of conjunctivitis is defined as long-term swelling of the outer lining of the eyes due to an allergic reaction.
It is an infection that derives from particular strains of adenovirus—the same virus that causes the common cold—and is spread through contact with infected persons, instruments, and other items. It can be hard to tell which type you are suffering from, but allergic pink eye usually goes away quickly on its own, or when the irritating agent is removed and the eyes are rinsed out. This discharge may be yellow or green, and it can cause the eyelids to stick together or it can flow out of the eyes. That way you can figure out which type of pink eye you have, if you’re contagious, and to get medicine (if applicable).
In most cases, samples are taken when gonorrhea or chlamydia is suspected, pink eye is severe, or the condition is recurrent. Pink eye typically resolves without serious complications within a week or two, with or without treatment, although symptoms may last up to six weeks. Soft contact lenses may need to be replaced with rigid gas-permeable (RGP) lenses or daily disposable contact lenses. Pink eye caused by allergies can be treated with over-the-counter antihistamine allergy eye drops.
Some types of conjunctivitis require mild steroids to be applied directly to the surface of the eye. Beers, MD “The Merck Manual of Medical Information” 2nd Home Edition (Pocket Books, 2003) 1296-1297J.




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