Experts estimate that short-term pink eye (conjunctivitis) affects more than 6 million people in the United States every single year.
Why do so many people get pink eye?
How in the world do so many people develop this condition, anyway?, many people wonder. In order to answer that question, it's important to firstly understand that there's more than just one type of pink eye. In fact, there are three primary types of conjunctivitis! They are viral, bacterial, and allergic conjunctivitis.
Allergic pink eye is not contagious; it's simply your eyes reacting to an allergen. Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis, though, are highly contagious, meaning they're easy to transfer. Viral conjunctivitis is the most common type of pink eye, and it's spread through a virus. Bacterial pink eye is a little less common, and it's spread through bacteria.
How is contagious pink eye spread?
Contagious pink eye can be spread in many different ways, including:
- Shaking hands with an infected individual after they rubbed their eyes
- Using the same towel as an infected individual
- Not cleaning contacts or glasses properly
How long does pink eye last?
Pink eye typically lasts 5â€“10 days but can last up to three weeks (21 days) or more depending on how severe of a case you have. If you recognize that your symptoms extend beyond 10 days, you should immediately call your treating physician and schedule an appointment to be on the safe side.
What are the symptoms of pink eye?
In order to reduce the risk of getting pink eye and spreading it to others, it's important to know what exactly the tell-tale signs of this condition are. One of the most classic symptoms of conjunctivitis involves the whites of the eyes...
1. White of the Eyes Turning Red
Inflammation of the transparent membrane, or conjunctiva (lining of the eyelid that covers the white part of the eyeball), is the hallmark sign of the condition. In fact, this symptom is where conjunctivitis gets its common name: pink eye.
Why does this symptom occur?
With conjunctivitis, the blood vessels in the surface of the eyes become inflamed. This inflammation means these vessels expand, which can can bring blood closer to the surface of the eye. The result? A reddened appearance.
When redness develops, the following symptom often presents itself not too long after...
When an eye waters more than usual, it is yet another sign that someone may be suffering from this condition.
Why does pink eye cause tearing?
Tearing is the body's way of flushing out irritating particles (allergens) or infections (viruses and bacteria). In other words, because pink eye is an allergic reaction or infection, your eye will attempt to flush out the agent causing irritation and agitation.
Unfortunately, tears are the only fluids the eyes may produce with this condition...
3. Crusty Eyes
Individuals suffering from pink eye may notice a yellowish discharge that becomes crusty when it dries. In some cases, the crusting may be so severe that it prevents the individual from opening their eye.
Why does pink eye cause yellow, crusty discharge?
Discharge is yet another way for the body to flush irritants out of the eyes. When an infection is present, this flushing may present as colored discharge. Now, the eyes constantly flush themselves throughout the day via blinking, which helps keep the eyes moist and prevents any discharge from hardening.
That all changes with sleep.
Naturally, no blinking occurs when we rest, which means there is plenty of time for this yellowish discharge to harden, forming a yellow crust to be discovered when waking up in the morning.
Is pink eye discharge always yellow and crusty?
Yellow isn't the only color this discharge may appear as, either. In fact, when discharge is the following color, it could point to a more serious infection...
4. Greenish or Grayish Discharge
Discharge that is green or gray in color is another common pink eye symptom.
What causes this kind of discharge?
Like other kinds of discharge, these kinds of discharge indicate that the body is trying to flush irritants out of the eye. However, green or gray discharge should always be taken seriously as it could be a sign of a sight-threatening bacterial infection.
Additionally, discharge that doesn't go awayâ€”no matter its colorâ€”after three days of antibiotics also requires a prompt follow-up with a doctor. Again, this sign could point to a more serious infection.
What about symptoms that you can't see?
The first few symptoms we've discussed have all been ones that are easy enough to see. The following symptom, though, is one that is felt...
Pink eye can cause the affect eye to become incredibly itchy. No matter how itchy the eye gets, though, it's important to resist the urge to scratch at all costs. Not only can this behavior worsen your pink eye, but it also drastically increases the odds of infecting other people.
Why does itchiness occur?
Itching is a byproduct of inflammation, which is a staple symptom of pink eye. In other words, inflammation so commonly seen with pink eye results in itching.
Unfortunately, eyes might not just feel itchy with pink eye...
A hot, stinging, and/or burning sensation in the affected eye that does not lesson or go away could also point to conjunctivitis.
What causes this burning sensation?
A burning sensation in the affected eye is commonly experienced with viral pink eye, although it can occur with any type of pink eye. As is the case with itchiness, burning sensations are typically the byproduct of eye inflammation.
Burning, itching, and discharge? Oh my. When these symptoms occur, it's no wonder that pink-eye sufferers may have to deal with the following symptom as well...
7. Vision Changes
Unclear vision or impaired depth perception are some of the more debilitating symptoms of conjunctivitis.
Why does pink eye result in vision changes?
Discharge, inflammation, and tearing of the eyes are all conditions in and of themselves that can negatively impact vision. Considering these symptoms can all occur with pink eye, it's no wonder that people with conjunctivitis can suffer from blurry vision, impaired depth perception, or even the following...
8. Sensitivity to Light
If lights suddenly seem too bright, it could be yet another sign that pink eye is to blame.
When is light sensitivity serious?
Mild light sensitivity is typically not a cause for alarm. Serious aversion to light, however, can indicate a worsening infection that may permanently alter sight. Therefore, intense light sensitivity or sensitivity that does not go away requires professional attention.
However, sometimes it's hard to see anything at all thanks to the following...
9. Swelling and Tenderness
Swelling, droopiness, and sensitivity of the eyelid? It could be conjunctivitis.
Why do these symptoms occur?
The Short Answer
These symptoms are the byproducts of inflammation.
The Long Answer
When the body senses a foreign invader (allergens, bacteria, viruses, etc.), the immune systems kicks in. One of the immune system's go-to responses to foreign invaders is inflammation. Now, the immune system releases histamines as part of its inflammatory response.
Histamines results in dilation (widening) of blood vessels in the eye, which ultimately can result in inflammation. When blood vessels enlarge, they naturally can puff out, resulting in the eye swelling seen with conjunctivitis. Furthermore, swollen and inflamed eyes can naturally feel tender to the touch.
Unfortunately, the eyes aren't the only areas of the body that may swell and become tender...
10. Lymph Node Tenderness
Sensitivity to the touch at the site of the preauricular lymph nodes (lymph nodes right in the front of the ears) is a lesser-known side effects of having pink eye.
Is lymph node swelling common?
Lymph node swelling is not a common symptom of pink eye. In fact, it is indicative more of a serious bacterial or viral infection. In cases where the lymph nodes swell, it's important to see a doctor right away.
That's especially true if this symptom is paired with the following...
Pink eye may cause throbbing, stabbing, or shooting pain in the region of the affected eye.
Why does pain occur?
As with many other symptoms of pink eye, pain can be the byproduct of inflammation. Other times, simply having a foreign object irritating the eye (as is the case with allergic conjunctivitis) can also result in eye pain.
Of course, the area around the eyes may also be affected by this condition, not just the eyes themselves...
12. Redness of the Skin Around the Eyes
This redness applies to the eye lids and eye sockets surrounding the entire eye; it does not refer to the white part of the eye as referenced in the earlier part of this article.
Why is the area around the eye affected?
Once again, this symptom ties back to inflammation. Namely, inflammation means that blood vessels dilate (widen). When this occurs, blood naturally flows closer to the surface of the skin, which can cause the entire surrounding area to appear reddish in color.
Does pink eye only affect one eye?
No! In some cases, pink eye can actually effect both eyes...
13. Both Eyes Affected
In some cases, pink eye can spread to both eyes.
When does this symptom occur?
Viral and bacteria pink eye are both highly contagious. That means it can not only spread easily from person to person, but also from eye to eye within the same person! So, left untreated, pink eye may affect both eyes. This double infection is more likely if someone consistently scratches or otherwise touches their eyes during the course of their infection.
If someone has allergic conjunctivitis, both eyes may be affected from the start.
What's most important for people who think they have pink eye to know?...
Take Pink Eye Seriously
Pink eye is a common condition that almost every person can expect to deal with at least once in their life. Remember, there are three main types to look out for: viral conjunctivitis, bacterial conjunctivitis, and allergic conjunctivitis. Which one you have will drastically affect how you treat your condition.
What's important to remember no matter the type of pink eye you have?
Identifying early warning signs is the key to both shortening the duration of a pink eye infection and preventing it from spreading.
Stop Pink Eye from Spreading
Those that are infected must remain aware that viral and bacterial forms of this condition are highly contagious; they can spread not only to other people but even to your unaffected eye! The best way to prevent either of these situations?
- Seek medical treatment for pink eye right away
- Don't touch your eyes
- Don't share towels with other people
- Don't wear contacts while infected; throw out used contacts
- Keep glasses clean
- Wash your hands with anti-bacterial soap often
- Stay away from babies and other people with compromised immune systems
- Wash towels, blankets, pillow covers, etc. to avoid reinfection