August 2011

If You Have Pink Eye

Have you ever looked in the mirror and found the whites of your eye have turned pink? That’s a main symptom of conjunctivitis, more commonly known as pink eye.

Pink eye is an inflammation of the outer layer of the eye and inside the eyelid. Your eyes turn red and irritated, and have a weepy discharge. It’s often caused by viruses, bacteria or allergies.

“Conjunctivitis can be contagious, and typically spreads from person to person through hand contact with someone who is infected,” says Dr. Nida Sen, an NIH ophthalmologist and researcher. “Use separate towels, disinfect toys and other objects that are frequently handled, and make sure everyone who might be exposed washes their hands often.”

Treatment for pink eye depends on its cause, which can be determined by an eye care professional. If it’s bacterial, your doctor may prescribe antibiotic drops or ointment. If it’s viral, the infection will likely clear up on its own. If allergies are the cause, eye drops for allergies might help.

“In most people, pink eye causes no lasting problems, but in rare cases it can be associated with a more serious disorder,” Sen says. “If you notice a change in your vision, you should inform your eye care professional.”