Itchy, Watery, Red Eyes: Should I Go To The Doctor for Pink Eye?

Young boy with pink eye-related symptomsYou’re starting the school year when your child comes home complaining of itchy, watery eyes. They have a history of allergies, so you don’t think much of the complaint until you see those telltale inflamed blood vessels in their eyes and notice that sticky, thick eye discharge. Unfortunately, your child is exhibiting conjunctivitis symptoms, and you may ask yourself, “should I go to the doctor for pink eye?”

For many parents, pink eye is a common concern in daycare or school environments. And while there are several causes and symptoms to watch out for in your children and yourself, 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, its causes, and treatment options.

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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 in several ways, and each may present with differing symptoms. Please note that some types of conjunctivitis are highly contagious, while others are not. 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 immediately to prevent the infection from spreading.

How Do You Get Pink Eye?

You can get pink eye from a viral or bacterial infection. You may also experience pink eye from allergens and irritants. Any contagious conjunctivitis, bacterial or viral kinds, will have a waiting period before you or your family member can return to work or school. The allergic and irritant types do not require any waiting period as they are not contagious. Therefore, knowing what exactly is causing your conjunctivitis will be crucial to selecting the best treatment methods.


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, like 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 complete relief from the symptoms. You may also experience conjunctivitis in both eyes because viral pink eye is extremely contagious.


Bacteria may get into your eyes from anywhere. Your hands, unclean contact lenses, or everyday interactions with others expose your eyes to bacteria regularly. If your eye doctor has tested and found a bacterial infection, they will prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointment as treatment for the eye infection.

This type of conjunctivitis is also very contagious and spreads quickly 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.


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.


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. Something as unassuming as your laundry detergent may also cause eye irritation! If you have reoccurring conjunctivitis symptoms from a particular chemical or environment, try removing it from your daily activities.

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Babies and Pink Eye

If you have an infant exhibiting symptoms of pink eye, even if they appear mild, you must take them to an eye doctor immediately. A baby with a bacterial pink eye infection can have lifelong vision problems if the pink eye is left untreated. Babies can get pink eye from any source mentioned previously, but they may also develop pink eye shortly after birth if exposed to STDs in the mother’s birth canal. Bacterial pink eye caused by gonorrhea may require intravenous (IV) antibiotics.

How Long Does Pink Eye Last?

Bacterial pink eye will clear up within a few days once you receive antibiotic eye drops, but the 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 lasts 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 Pink Eye Contagious?

As long as you are still experiencing symptoms of a bacterial or viral eye infection—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 infectious. Therefore, you must ensure pink eye symptoms are no longer present before returning to work or sending your children back to school.

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What Gets Rid of Pink Eye Fast?

As we’ve discussed, pink eye has many causes and symptoms—some treatable and some not. These symptoms can be annoying and inconvenient, primarily because we rely on our eyes all day, every day! However, there are a few additional treatment options you can try to lessen the symptoms of pink eye and make the whole thing more bearable. These include:

  • Use cold or warm compresses.
  • Remove contact lenses and wear only glasses until symptoms have cleared up.
  • Try lubricating eye drops to relieve itchiness.
  • 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 to prevent conjunctivitis from spreading is to always wash your hands before and after touching your face or eye area.

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

Other tips for preventing pink eye include:

  • Do not share eye makeup.
  • Do not share contacts or contact lens cases.
  • Clean your hands before putting in contact lenses.
  • Wear contact lenses as directed by your eye doctor, replacing with fresh ones as necessary.
  • Do not share eye drops.
  • If using eye drops for eye relief outside the context of an eye illness, do not let the dropper touch your eyeball. If it does, dispose of the dropper.
  • Wash your hands before touching your eyes and then again after.

What if I only have pink eye in one eye?

If you have a contagious form of pink eye and you do not wish for it to spread to the other eye, you must be diligent about prevention. Do not touch your eyes, avoid cross-contamination with washcloths or compresses, and use clean towels and bedding every day to prevent the spread.

Protect Your Eye Health Today by Scheduling an Appointment

Remember that if you ask yourself, “should I go to the doctor for pink eye symptoms?” you should make an appointment. Never risk your eye health by dismissing symptoms or eye issues, even mild ones. Our mission at Campus Eye Center is to help our patients protect and preserve their vision for years to come.

Whether or not you are 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.

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