Conjunctivitis is often called “pink eye.” It happens when the conjunctiva is irritated by an infection or allergies. Your eyes are red and swollen (inflamed), and sometimes they have a sticky discharge. You can have conjunctivitis in one or both eyes. Some types of pink eye are very contagious (easily spread from person to person).
There are three main types of conjunctivitis: viral, bacterial and allergic.
Viral conjunctivitis is the most common type of pink eye. This conjunctivitis is very contagious and often spreads through schools and other crowded places. It usually causes burning, red eyes with a watery discharge.
Bacterial conjunctivitis is also very contagious. An infection from bacteria causes this form of pink eye. With bacterial conjunctivitis, you have sore, red eyes with a lot of sticky pus.
Allergic conjunctivitis is a type of pink eye that comes from an allergic reaction to something. It is not contagious. Allergic pink eye makes your eyes very itchy, red and watery.
Pink eye symptoms may include:
- the feeling that something is in your eye, or a gritty sensation in your eye
- red eyes
- burning eyes
- itchy eyes
- painful eyes (this is usually with the bacterial form)
- watery eyes
- puffy eyelids
- blurry or hazy vision
- being extra sensitive to light
- lots of mucus, pus, or thick yellow discharge from your eye. There can be so much that your eyelashes stick together (usually with bacterial conjunctivitis).
Treating pink eye usually depends on the type of conjunctivitis you have.
If your conjunctivitis is caused by a viral infection, there are no specific treatments. Your body fights the virus on its own. Placing a cool, wet washcloth on your eyes can help make them feel more comfortable.
If your pink eye is caused by a bacterial infection, your ophthalmologist may prescribe antibiotic eye drops, depending on how severe your symptoms are. Antibiotics do not treat an infection caused by a virus or by allergy.
If your conjunctivitis is due to allergies, you might be told to use certain eye drops to help with the itchiness and puffiness.
Sometimes conjunctivitis can be caused by a chemical or other substance in your eye. In this case, rinse the eye free of the substance. You might be told to use certain eye drops or ointment for the eyes.