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How Do I Know If I Have Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis)? in

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A young man holding a tissue in his left hand and rubbing his right eye in irritation with his right hand.

When it comes to our eye health, knowing the signs and symptoms of common conditions, like pink eye (conjunctivitis), can empower us to take proactive steps toward seeking appropriate care and treatment

Pink eye is a common eye infection that presents with pink or red eyes, itchiness, a gritty feeling, and discharge. Identifying these symptoms can help with early diagnosis and prevent the spread of pink eye to others. 

What Is Pink Eye?

Pink eye is an inflammation of the conjunctiva—the thin transparent membrane that covers the white part of the eye and lines the inside of the eyelids. When you have pink eye, the blood vessels in the conjunctiva become irritated and inflamed, making the whites of your eyes turn red. 

Pink eye can cause discomfort but rarely affects your vision. Some forms of pink eye, however, are very contagious.

Symptoms of Pink Eye

Symptoms of pink eye can include:

  • A pink or red colour in the white of the eyes
  • Swelling of the conjunctiva 
  • Excess tearing
  • Foreign body feeling in the eyes 
  • Itching and burning
  • Pus or mucus discharge 
  • Crusting of eyelids or lashes
  • Discomfort wearing contact lenses

One of the most common and unmistakable signs of pink eye is intense itchiness and redness. You may feel a persistent urge to rub your eyes. But rubbing can exacerbate the condition and potentially introduce more harmful bacteria or irritants.

If you notice excessive tearing or discharge, it could indicate pink eye. Pus or mucous may cause your eyelids to stick together, especially in the morning. Remember to practice good hygiene by washing your hands frequently and avoiding sharing towels or pillows.

Grittiness and the feeling of having something in the eye can cause irritation and discomfort. Rubbing or scratching the eye to relieve the sensation can worsen the condition. You can use artificial tears or saline solution to flush out any potential irritants. 

If you wake up with crusty or swollen eyelids, it could be a clear sign of pink eye. The discharge accumulating and drying overnight causes crusty eyelids and lashes. You can clean your eyelids with a wet cloth and use a warm or cold compress for relief. 

Types of Pink Eye

There are 3 main types of conjunctivitis, categorized by their underlying causes. 

Infectious Conjunctivitis

Causes of infectious pink eye include bacteria and viruses.


Staphylococcal or streptococcal bacteria commonly cause bacterial pink eye, although other bacteria can also cause it. 

Bacterial conjunctivitis is highly contagious and can easily spread by touching your eyes with unclean hands, sharing makeup, or coming in close contact with someone with pink eye. It’s more common in children than adults. 


The common cold virus usually causes this type of pink eye and is highly contagious. It can spread if someone with an upper respiratory infection coughs or sneezes near you. If you have a cold virus, the infection can spread from your respiratory system to your eyes.

Allergic Conjunctivitis

Allergic pink eye is from seasonal allergies or indoor allergens. They result from your body’s reaction to allergens, such as pollen, dust mites, mould, animal dander, or cosmetics. This type of pink eye is not contagious. 

Allergic conjunctivitis occurs more often in those with hay fever, asthma, and eczema or who develop giant papillary conjunctivitis from wearing hard or soft contact lenses that are not frequently replaced. 

Chemical Conjunctivitis

You can get pink eye from chemical irritants, such as:

  • Chlorine in pools
  • Exposure to other chemicals

Other irritants can include:

  • A foreign body in the eye 
  • Air pollution, such as contact with smoke, dust, or fumes
A female optometrist examines the eyes of a man using a medical device to detect potential eye problems.

When to Seek Professional Care

If you suspect you have pink eye or experience symptoms mentioned above or the following symptoms, visit your eye doctor for a diagnosis:

  • Eye pain
  • Light sensitivity
  • Blurry vision
  • Symptoms worsen or don’t improve

Based on the diagnosis, they will recommend the most appropriate treatment option based on the cause. 

Preventing the Spread of Pink Eye

Infectious forms of pink eye are highly contagious and can spread from person to person through direct or indirect contact. When you take the following precautions, you can prevent its spread:

  • Avoid touching or rubbing your eyes with unwashed hands.
  • Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Only use clean tissues and towels to wipe your face and eyes.
  • Avoid sharing personal items, such as towels, pillows, and cosmetics.
  • Wash pillowcases frequently.
  • Disinfect touched surfaces. 

Effectively Manage Your Pink Eye with Cowichan Eyecare

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of pink eye is key when seeking appropriate care and preventing the spread of the infection. If you think you have pink eye, don’t hesitate to book an appointment with Cowichan Eyecare immediately. 

Written by Dr. Anita Voisin, OD

More Articles By Dr. Anita Voisin, OD

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