A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Pinkeye? Don’t panic

illustration of eye that is pink due to infection

Though it usually is not a serious condition, pinkeye is highly contagious.

The first time your child wakes up with a puffy, runny, red or pink eye may be alarming.

Don’t fear.

It’s probably conjunctivitis, or pinkeye, a common condition among kids and adults. It isn’t serious and usually clears up without complications. It’s contagious, so you’ll need to take steps protect friends and family.

Here’s what you should know about pinkeye.

1. Redness, swelling and tearing are the main symptoms.

Pinkeye occurs when a virus causes the white part of your eye, called the conjunctiva, to become pink or red and swollen, said Dr. Yan Guo, a Marshfield Clinic pediatric ophthalmologist. Occasionally bacteria can also cause pinkeye.

Watery eyes and irritation also are common symptoms. Some people have cold symptoms beforehand, which may or may not turn into a cold.

Pinkeye shouldn’t affect your sight. Check your vision by covering the healthy eye. You should be able to see the television or a picture on the wall clearly out of your pink or red eye.

2. Pinkeye spreads easily.

Pinkeye is contagious and easily spread from one eye to the other and between people. Stay home from school or work until eye discharge stops and symptoms improve, or 24 hours after effective treatment for bacterial pinkeye.

Care My Way® gives quick treatment for common conditions like pinkeye. Download the app to get started.

Hand washing is the most important thing you can do to prevent pinkeye from spreading,” Guo said.

Wash your hands before touching your eyes or face to avoid getting pinkeye. If you have pinkeye, avoid touching your eyes and wash hands frequently so you don’t spread the illness.

Don’t share towels or washcloths with someone who has pinkeye. Don’t wear contact lenses while you have symptoms. Get a new pair of contacts after the illness clears up.

3. Medication usually isn’t needed.

“Viral and bacterial pinkeye normally go away on their own within 10-14 days,” Guo said.

There usually is no need for antibiotics, prescription eye drops or ointments if you have a virus. Antibiotic eye drops may shorten the length of bacterial infection, but they aren’t always necessary.

Over-the-counter artificial tears can help relieve irritation.

4. Pain, vision problems or a contact lens wearer? See a doctor.

See an eye doctor immediately if you have a red or pink eye and any of the following apply to you:

  • Vision problems, severe pain or significant swelling around your eye. Rubbing your eyes frequently can scratch your cornea and cause problems that need medical attention.
  • You wear contact lenses and woke up with a red eye. It could be a serious eye problem such as a corneal ulcer that causes permanent damage. Don’t wear contact lenses overnight.
  • You’re not sure what is causing your eye to look pink or red. Sometimes other eye problems, including allergies, infections, dry eye or irritation caused by chemicals can look like pinkeye.

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