Pink Eye: Usually Mild and Easy to Treat

Pink eye is common and spreads easily. It sometimes needs medical treatment. Learn the symptoms, when to seek treatment, and how to help prevent it.

Graphic: Healthy eye vs infected eye

Pink Eye is Common

Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is one of the most common and treatable eye conditions in the world. It can affect both children and adults. It is an inflammation of the thin, clear tissue that lines the inside of the eyelid (conjunctiva) and the white part of the eyeball. This inflammation makes blood vessels more visible and gives the eye a pink or reddish color.

Pink Eye Symptoms

The symptoms may vary, but usually include:

  • Redness or swelling of the white of the eye or inside the eyelids
  • Increased amount of tears
  • Eye discharge which may be clear, yellow, white, or green
  • Itchy, irritated, and/or burning eyes
  • Gritty feeling in the eye
  • Crusting of the eyelids or lashes
  • Contact lenses that feel uncomfortable and/or do not stay in place on the eye

There are Four Main Causes of Pink Eye

There are four main causes of pink eye:

It can be difficult to determine the exact cause of pink eye because some signs and symptoms may be the same no matter the cause.

Mom helping young child wash her hands.

Wash your hands and help children was their hand to help keep pink eye from spreading.

Take Steps to Stop Pink Eye from Spreading

When pink eye is caused by a virus or bacteria, it is very contagious. It can spread easily and quickly from person to person. Pink eye caused by allergens or irritants is not contagious. Follow these simple self-care steps to reduce the risk of getting or spreading pink eye:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds
  • Avoid touching or rubbing your eyes
  • Avoid sharing makeup, contact lenses and containers, and eyeglasses

See conjunctivitis prevention for more information.

Some People with Pink Eye Need to See a Doctor

There are times when it is important to see a healthcare provider for specific treatment and/or follow-up. You should see a healthcare provider if you have pink eye along with any of the following:

  • Moderate to severe pain in your eye(s)
  • Sensitivity to light or blurred vision
  • Intense redness in the eye(s)
  • A weakened immune system, for example from HIV or cancer treatment
  • Symptoms that get worse or don’t improve, including bacterial pink eye that does not improve after 24 hours of antibiotic use
  • Pre-existing eye conditions that may put you at risk for complications or severe infection
  • An infant or newborn with symptoms of pink eye should see a healthcare provider immediately

See conjunctivitis treatment for more information.

A newborn sleeping in his mother’s arms

A newborn with pink eye will have the same symptoms as other people, but should always see a doctor.

Newborns with Pink Eye Always Need to See a Doctor

Pink eye in newborns can be caused by an infection, irritation, or a blocked tear duct. A newborn baby who has symptoms of pink eye in the first two weeks after birth should see a healthcare provider.

Newborn pink eye caused by sexually transmitted infections, like gonorrhea or chlamydia, can be very serious. Visit your healthcare provider for testing and treatment if you are pregnant and think you may have a sexually transmitted infection. If you don’t know whether you have a sexually transmitted infection but have recently given birth and your newborn shows signs of pink eye, visit your child’s healthcare provider right away.

Most hospitals are required by state law to put drops or ointment in a newborn’s eyes to prevent pink eye. For more information, see conjunctivitis in newborns.

More Information

Page last reviewed: March 14, 2019