Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis)

What is Conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis, better known as pink eye, is the medical term that describes an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin membrane that covers the white of your eyes.
This membrane produces mucus to coat and lubricate the surface of the eye. Upon close inspection, you can see fine blood vessels within this membrane. When the conjunctiva becomes irritated, the blood vessels enlarge making the eye appear red in colour.


Causes and Symptoms

Conjunctivitis can be caused by a number of things, but the most common are viral and bacterial infections, allergies or environmental irritants. Infection conjunctivitis--whether viral or bacterial--can be quite contagious, so contact with the infected person's tears through handkerchiefs and towels should be avoided. Hand washing after contact will also prevent the spread.
The signs are usually quite obvious: red, irritated eye; a burning or scratchy feeling; or, a pus-like discharge.
There are several eye diseases which also produce what might be confused with "pink eye", so a medical evaluation with an ophthalmologist--a medically trained eye specialist--is always a good idea. This is particularly true if pain, blurred vision or severe light sensitivity are also present as these are not normally associated with conjunctivitis.



Infection caused by bacteria can be treated with antibiotics. With a bacterial infection, pus will be present. Most infections, however, are caused by viral infections and cannot be treated with antibiotics.
While a consultation with your ophthalmologist is always recommended, generally, the viruses that cause pink eye will clear up on their own and are not damaging to the eye.