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Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)

Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is a common eye infection, especially in children. It affects the tissue inside the eyelid and on the white part of the eye. Conjunctivitis usually does not affect vision.

Conjunctivitis: what you should know

Though there are different types and causes of conjunctivitis, they share several common symptoms, including the following:

  • Pinkness or redness in the white part of one or both eyes
  • Swelling of the conjunctiva (tissue lining the white part of the eye and inside the eyelid) or eyelids
  • Increased tearing
  • Itching, irritation or burning
  • Feeling of having something in the eye
  • Crusting of eyelids or lashes, especially in the morning
  • Sensitivity to bright light
  • Pus or discharge from the eye
  • Allergy symptoms, such as an itchy nose, sneezing, a scratchy throat, or asthma

There are three main types of conjunctivitis:

  • Bacterial: contagious, caused by a staph or strep infection
  • Viral: contagious, caused by cold viruses or diseases passed from mother to newborn during birth
  • Allergic: not contagious, caused by pollen, dander, mold or other naturally occurring allergens; foreign body in the eye; chemical substances including air pollution, chlorine in swimming pools, contact lens solutions or eye drops

You can reduce the risk of getting conjunctivitis or passing it to someone else with these simple steps:

  • Frequently wash your hands with soap and warm water or hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching or rubbing your eyes.
  • Avoid sharing items such as pillows, washcloths, towels, contact lenses or solutions, makeup, eye medications or eyeglasses.
  • Wash pillowcases, sheets and towels in hot water and detergent.
  • Avoid or remove allergens or foreign substances that get into your eye.
  • Throw away or clean items such as makeup, contact lens solutions or eyeglasses.

How can I get help for conjunctivitis?

Usually, your primary care doctor or eye doctor can diagnose conjunctivitis from your medical history and symptoms observed during an exam. If your physician suspects any other related problems, you may need a lab test on the discharge from your eye to confirm a diagnosis.

Care for conjunctivitis at Rush

Some types of conjunctivitis clear up without treatment. If you need medical care for conjunctivitis, doctors at Rush can help heal the infection and relieve your symptoms.

Depending on the type of conjunctivitis you have, your physician may recommend one or more of the following treatment options:

  • Antibiotic eye drops or ointments (for bacterial type)
  • Antiviral eye medication (for conjunctivitis caused by herpes or shingles virus)
  • Anti-inflammatory, antihistamine or steroid eye drops (for allergic type)
  • Saline eye wash to flush out allergens or chemical irritants
  • Artificial tears or cold compresses to relieve dryness and swelling

Why choose Rush for conjunctivitis care

  • For conjunctivitis that worsens or affects your vision, eye specialists in Rush’s Department of Ophthalmology provide expert care for all eye conditions.
  • A major focus of the faculty’s work in education and academic research is on improving patient care. Board-certified physicians at Rush have been named among Chicago’s best doctors by Castle Connolly Ltd.
  • The team of eye care specialists in the Cornea and External Diseases Program has extensive experience in treating patients with conjunctivitis and all types of related problems.

Departments and programs that treat this condition