Okay guys, here’s the scoop – there is no such thing as pink eye. Oh sure, your eye can be pink, but “pink eye” is not a diagnosis, it’s a description of the way your eye looks. So now that we’ve cleared that misconception up, what causes eyes to become pink?
One of the most common causes of pink (or red) eyes is some form of conjunctivitis. The term conjunctivitis is also very nonspecific and vague – so let’s break it down into more understandable terms. The conjunctiva is the clear thin covering of the white part of the eye and the insides of the lids and the term “itis” derives from the Greek and means “inflammation of”. So quite simply, conjunctivitis means that the white part of the eye is inflamed, and when body parts become inflamed, they get red or pinkish. There are three main forms of conjunctivitis:
- Bacterial Conjunctivitis – like it sounds, it’s caused by bacteria – not only is the eye red but there is usually green discharge as well that can cause the eyes to be glued shut upon awakening in the morning. This is pretty contagious and is treated with topical antibiotic drops or ointment.
- Viral Conjunctivitis – caused by viruses, the eyes are watery, red and sometimes itchy. This is also very contagious and since it is a virus, antibiotic drops don’t work. This usually runs its course over a week or so – cool compresses and artificial tears can be helpful.
- Allergic Conjunctivitis – the hallmark symptom of this type of conjunctivitis is unbearable itching. Usually this is a reaction to pollen or ragweed during peak allergy season (spring or fall) or to pets, dust, or other known allergens. It is not contagious and can be treated conservatively with cool compresses or high quality artificial tears. Oral antihistamines are helpful if there is also nasal congestion and sneezing, prescription eye drops work best if it only affects the eyes.
Other causes of pink or red eyes are dry eye and blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelids) as well as contact lens complications which can range from infections to corneal ulcers. Environmental causes of pink eye are irritants such as dust, smoke, air pollution and chemical exposure. It is important not to self diagnose or use somebody else’s eye drops. If your eyes get red or pink and your symptoms are getting worse or not going away it is important to have your eyes checked by an eye doctor to ensure proper and prompt treatment.