When to See an Eye Doctor About Pink Eye

Young boy with pink eye-related symptoms

For many parents, pink eye is a common occurrence in daycare or school environments. While there are several causes and symptoms to watch out for, not every case is the same. At Campus Eye Center in Lancaster, Pa., we take your eye health seriously and know how frustrating any eye condition can be. Please continue reading to learn more about pink eye, what causes it, and treatment options.

What Is Pink Eye?

Your eyes have transparent membranes that work to keep your eyes safe and healthy. When you get pink eye, your conjunctiva (the layer covering your eyelid and the whites of your eyes), becomes inflamed. The inflammation of your conjunctiva is known as conjunctivitis or pink eye.

Although a red eye is just one symptom of conjunctivitis, the term “pink eye” refers to the pinkish and red colors that the inflamed blood vessels in the conjunctiva give the white part of the eye. Other symptoms to watch out for with this eye disease include:

  • Watery or burning eyes
  • Itchiness
  • Eye pain
  • Light sensitivity
  • Eye discharge that may feel sticky or gritty

Not All Types of Pink Eye Are the Same

You can get pink eye several ways, and each may present with differing symptoms. Please note, some types of conjunctivitis are highly contagious, while others are not contagious at all. That is why it is crucial to find out what kind of conjunctivitis you have and how to treat it immediately.

If someone in your family has symptoms of this eye disease, it is best to schedule an appointment and receive treatment right away to prevent the infection from spreading.

How Do You Get Pink Eye?

You can get pink eye from a viral or bacterial infection and from allergens and irritants. Any contagious conjunctivitis (bacterial or viral) will have a waiting period before you or your family member can return to work or school. Therefore, knowing what exactly is causing your conjunctivitis will be crucial to selecting the best treatment methods.

Viral Conjunctivitis

The most common cause of conjunctivitis is viral infections. Antibiotics do not work on viral conjunctivitis, just as they do not work for other viral infections in your body—such as a cold. This type of pink eye will clear up on its own, but you should still see an eye doctor to confirm that there are no underlying issues.

Even though viral conjunctivitis will heal without medicine, it may take several weeks to see full relief from the symptoms. You may also experience conjunctivitis in both eyes because viral pink eye is very contagious.

Bacterial Conjunctivitis

Bacteria may get into your eyes from anywhere—your hands, unclean contact lenses, or from everyday interactions with others. If your eye doctor has tested and found a bacterial infection, they will prescribe an antibiotic eye drop as treatment.

This type of conjunctivitis is also very contagious and spread easily among children. Unlike viral conjunctivitis, this type of pink eye will not clear up on its own and may cause vision problems if not treated.

Allergic Conjunctivitis

Allergy-based conjunctivitis occurs because of the body’s allergic reaction to allergens like pollen, dust, and smoke. Although allergy-based pink eye is not contagious, symptoms may ebb and flow based on the seasonality of your environment. Allergy medication, including eye drops, will help to alleviate symptoms and clear up this type of pink eye.

Irritant Conjunctivitis

Irritants like chemicals, pollutants, and foreign objects can also cause conjunctivitis. Usually, once the irritant is no longer present and the eye has had time to heal, conjunctivitis will clear up on its own.

You may find that swimming in a chlorinated pool or dealing with cleaning chemicals can cause mild conjunctivitis. If you have reoccurring conjunctivitis symptoms from a particular chemical or environment, try removing it from your daily activities.

How Long Does Pink Eye Last?

Bacterial pink eye will clear up within a few days once you receive antibiotic eye drops, but viral pink eye can last up to two weeks. You are still contagious with both types for several days, or until symptoms start to clear up.

Allergy and irritant-based pink eye last as long as the allergy or irritant is present. You may be able to clear up these types of conjunctivitis faster by introducing an allergy medication or removing the irritant from your environment.

How Long Is Conjunctivitis Contagious?

As long as you are still experiencing symptoms of pink eye—such as pink, itchy, or watery eyes, discharge, or crustiness—you are still contagious. Once symptoms begin to clear up, you are generally no longer contagious. Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are highly contagious. Therefore, you must make sure pink eye symptoms are no longer present before heading back to work or sending your children back to school.

What Gets Rid of Pink Eye Fast?

As we’ve discussed, pink eye has many causes and symptoms—some treatable and some not. However, there are a few additional treatment options you can try to lessen the symptoms of pink eye. These include:

  • Cold or warm compresses
  • Remove contact lenses and wear only glasses until symptoms have cleared up
  • Lubricating eye drops
  • Stop using and replace any eye makeup

Tips for Preventing Pink Eye

Preventing the spread of pink eye starts with proper hygiene habits and disinfectant practices—especially in a daycare or school setting with children. The number one way you can prevent conjunctivitis from spreading is to always wash your hands before and after touching your face or eye area.

It is especially crucial if you or someone in your family has been diagnosed with viral or bacterial conjunctivitis to wash all towels and bedding and to disinfect all common areas.

Protect Your Eye Health Today by Scheduling an Appointment

Whether or not you are currently experiencing any symptoms of eye diseases, like pink eye, it is essential to maintain regular eye care appointments. Today, many eye conditions are detectable earlier on, so scheduling regular eye care visits may save your vision in the future.

Call Campus Eye Center today to schedule an appointment at one of our locations in the Lancaster, Pa. area. Our mission at Campus Eye Center is to help our patients protect and preserve their vision for years to come.