Doctor, I Think I Have Pink Eye

Woman With Pink Eye

Patients often come into our office telling us they have pink eye. We also get patients who get a referral from their primary doctor with pink eye that’s not getting better.

“Pink eye” is a colloquial term that means the white part of the eye is “pink.” It’s not a medical diagnosis at all.

What is often happening with “pink eye” is a condition called conjunctivitis.

The conjunctiva is the clear skin that covers the white part of the eye.

When it becomes inflamed or infected, we refer to it as conjunctivitis. There are many types of conjunctivitis and many reasons why the eye can become “pink”.

Many of these reasons aren’t actually conjunctivitis! Keep reading for some of the most common reasons someone has “pink” eye!


Seasonal allergies to weeds or grass or an acute allergic reaction can cause the eyes to turn pink. There is often itching and swelling of the eyelids. In some cases, the conjunctiva seems to almost bubble off the eye.

This is chemosis. Treatments include cool compresses, antihistamine drops, and steroid drops. It is not contagious.


Conjunctivitis caused by bacteria is usually unilateral but both eyes can be affected. There is usually mucous discharge, crusting and the eyes can be stuck together in the morning.

Bacterial conjunctivitis can be contagious, which is why we prescribe antibiotic drops. Antibiotic drops help speed up recovery and keep other people from catching conjunctivitis.


Viral conjunctivitis is often red and itchy with a watery discharge or eyelid swelling. It is contagious and may come with other symptoms of a virus like runny nose, sore throat, or cough.

Antibiotic drops will not help and the condition will resolve on its own. To decrease any discomfort, try treatments like cool compresses, lubricants and antihistamine drops. Good hand hygiene can prevent the spread within a household.

Dry Eye & Blepharitis:

These are common conditions that develop in many people with age and are not contagious. Both can cause “pink” appearing eyes.

In dry eye, the eye produces fewer tears or the tear quality is too low to nourish the eye. Depending on your dry eye, there are treatments like lubricants and vitamins. If you aren’t producing enough tears, you may try prescription anti-inflammatory drops.

In blepharitis, the eyelids become chronically inflamed. With this inflammation, the tear-producing glands may become blocked.

Warm compresses, antibiotic or anti-inflammatory drops can help. Both conditions are chronic and may need long term management.

Contact Lens Issues:

If you wear contacts and have pink eye that doesn’t go away after taking out your contacts, see your eye doctor. Inflammation or infection of the cornea can cause the eye to become red or light sensitive.

Without treatment, this can become painful and lead to other complications. Rapid diagnosis and treatment with antibiotics and/or anti-inflammatory drops are imperative.


This is an inflammation of the iris, which is part of the vascular layer of the eyeball. Though the conjunctiva may look pink or red, pain and light sensitivity often occur.

Iritis can be a more serious problem. Steroid eye drops are generally required along with regular monitoring by an ophthalmologist. You may need further evaluation to rule out things like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.

The only way to know if you have pink eye or another condition is to see an ophthalmologist! Contact SightMD to schedule an appointment at one of our locations in Long Island!

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