What is Pink Eye? Here’s a Closer Look at Conjunctivitis

January 7, 2016

Closeup of child's eye with pink eye

The University Eye Center’s Dr. Danielle Iacono explains what conjunctivitis, commonly referred to as pink eye, is and how it’s treated.

Can you explain what conjunctivitis is and how people get it?

Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva.  The conjunctiva covers the white part of the eye and the inside of the eyelids.  There are multiple causes of conjunctivitis.  It can be due to an infection from a virus or bacteria, or due to allergies or irritants.  Conjunctivitis caused by viruses and bacteria is contagious and may be spread from person to person.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of conjunctivitis can include:

  • Redness
  • Burning
  • Itching
  • Tearing
  • Discharge
  • Swollen eyelids

How is conjunctivitis treated?

The treatment for conjunctivitis depends on the cause:

If it is due to a bacterial infection, antibiotics in the form of eye drops or eye ointments are prescribed.

If the conjunctivitis is due to a virus, it will resolve on its own in 1-2 weeks.  Certain cases may take 3 weeks or more to resolve.  Artificial tear drops and cool compresses may be suggested to improve comfort.

Conjunctivitis from allergies can be treated with artificial tears, antihistamine, or anti-inflammatory eye drops.  In more severe cases, steroid eye drops may be prescribed.  It is also important to avoid the allergen that is causing the symptoms.

Contact lens wearers may need to stop wearing their lenses when they have conjunctivitis.

How can you prevent the spread of conjunctivitis?

Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water, especially after applying eye drops. Do not touch or rub your eyes. Do not share pillowcases, towels, sheets or washcloths.  Wash these items in hot water and detergent. Do not share make-up.  Throw away any make-up used while you have conjunctivitis.  Do not wear another person’s contact lenses.  Throw away disposable lenses worn while infected.

Dr. Danielle IaconoDr. Danielle Iacono is an assistant clinical professor in both the Primary and Advanced Care clinics of the University Eye Center.