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Everything You Need to Know About Pink Eye

May 03, 2022 Urgent Care Share:

Did you know that 3 million Americans get pink eye every single year?

While it’s most common among young children, pink eye can affect adults as well. And if you’ve ever had it, you know it can be very uncomfortable and can impact your ability to work or go about your daily activities.

Fortunately, many cases of pink eye are treatable, and a quick visit to urgent care can get you back to doing the things you love.

What is Pink Eye?

Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is a condition that can affect one or both eyes. The conjunctiva is the thin tissue that covers over the white part of your eye. When you have pink eye, the conjunctiva is inflamed as a result of infection or irritation. The inflammation is part of your body’s natural defense system, but the result is discomfort in your eye.

Pink eye gets its name from the redness or pink tint that occurs in the whites of your eyes. But not all cases of red eyes indicate the presence of conjunctivitis. Other symptoms of pink eye may include:

  • Goopy, gunky eyelashes from a greenish or yellow discharge, although some discharge can be clear.
  • Swelling
  • Feeling like you have sand or grit in your eye
  • Blurred vision

Not every case of conjunctivitis will present with the same symptoms. You may have a few symptoms or all of them, depending on the severity of inflammation.

What Causes Pink Eye?

Pink eye can have several causes. But no matter what causes it, it’s usually pretty uncomfortable. The cause of your particular case of pink eye will determine the kind of treatment you need and whether or not it’s contagious.

Viral Conjunctivitis

Viral conjunctivitis is caused by a virus, usually the same viruses that cause colds and other upper respiratory infections. If you have a case of pink eye that’s caused by a virus, you will also often have other cold symptoms like a runny nose or sore throat.

Viral conjunctivitis is highly contagious, especially if you have discharge from your eye. You can spread the virus from one eye to another, and it can also spread from person to person, especially in the same household or among small children. Droplets from a cough or sneeze can come in contact with another person’s eyes, allowing the virus to spread.

Bacterial Conjunctivitis

Bacterial conjunctivitis is pink eye that is caused by bacteria rather than a virus. Like viral conjunctivitis, bacterial conjunctivitis can be highly contagious.

There are several ways you can expose your eyes to bacteria. Because bacteria is everywhere, touching your eyes with unwashed hands can introduce bacteria into your eyes. While some people may call pink eye “poop eye”, that’s not always accurate. Young children especially can get pink eye from rubbing their eyes after a bathroom visit where they didn’t wash their hands, but several other types of bacteria can also cause pink eye.

Eye makeup is another common culprit for pink eye. Whenever you use eye makeup, your tools are going to come in contact with bacteria. That bacteria can grow and transfer to your eyes while you’re putting on your makeup. This is why it’s always good to replace your eye makeup every three to six months. Sharing contaminated eye makeup can also cause conjunctivitis to spread.

Allergic Conjunctivitis

Some cases of pink eye occur when your eye becomes inflamed in response to an allergen. This type of conjunctivitis is not contagious, since your body is responding to a particular allergen. In the same way that you can’t give someone else your sniffles due to a pollen allergy, you can’t give anyone else your pink eye that’s caused by an allergy.

Allergic conjunctivitis usually occurs alongside other allergy symptoms. For example, if your eyes are irritated by pollen, you’re probably also experiencing some allergy symptoms such as sneezing or a runny nose.

Conjunctivitis from Irritants

Irritants can also cause conjunctivitis. In this case, your eye becomes inflamed due to irritation from something that doesn’t belong in your eye. This type of pink eye can be caused by exposure to a chemical, makeup, smoke, dust, or even improper contact lens usage.

Just like allergic conjunctivitis, conjunctivitis that is caused by an irritant cannot be spread to other people. Once you remove yourself from the irritant, your eye will begin to heal.

When to go to Urgent Care for Pink Eye

Pink eye will usually resolve on its own, but it can take some time. But getting it looked at by a doctor is always a good idea, even if you think you know the cause, because treatment may be available to shorten the duration or severity of your case of conjunctivitis.

If your eye is just pink and you’re not experiencing any discomfort, you can probably skip the doctor’s office. But it’s time to go to urgent care if:

  • You're in pain
  • You're sensitive to light
  • Your vision is blurry
  • Your symptoms get worse or don't improve

If you visit an urgent care clinic with pink eye, your doctor will examine your eye and ask about any other symptoms you may be having to try to determine the cause. Treatments are available for pink eye that is caused by bacteria or an allergen.

Antibiotic drops for bacterial conjunctivitis and antihistamine drops for allergic conjunctivitis can speed up your recovery. (However, if your pink eye is caused by an allergen, you’ll probably still experience some symptoms unless you completely remove yourself from that allergen.)

If your doctor determines that your pink eye is caused by a virus, there’s nothing your doctor can do to cure it. Viruses don’t respond to antibiotic treatment, even if it’s in your eyes. But you can do some things at home to help relieve your symptoms.

If you have pink eye, don’t wear contact lenses or eye makeup until it resolves. You can use a cool compress several times a day, but make sure to use a washcloth that doesn’t produce lint or fuzz. Keep this cloth separate from other washcloths and don’t share it with anyone else in your household.

Over-the-counter lubricating eye drops can also provide relief. Although your eye may be pink or red, avoid any drops that are labeled for red eyes. Instead, look for drops that have “tears” in the name or description.

Stopping the Spread of Pink Eye

Because some forms of pink eye are very contagious, it’s important to know how to keep from giving it to others. Some keys to preventing the spread of pink eye include:

  • Proper handwashing. It’s always a good idea to wash your hands frequently with soap and water, but you need to be especially conscientious if you have pink eye.
  • Don't touch or rub your eyes. This can be difficult when you have pink eye because you’re going to be tempted to rub your eyes. If you must touch your eyes, wash your hands thoroughly before and after.
  • Don't go swimming. Pink eye can spread through water, even if it has been treated with chlorine.
  • Don't share makeup or makeup tools with others. When you share your makeup, you're also sharing the bacteria.

If you have pink eye, your urgent care doctor will let you know when it’s safe for you to return to work or school.

Telehealth Visits for Pink Eye

We can see patients with pink eye at a walk-in visit at any of our five Birmingham urgent care clinics. However, telehealth is also a great option for pink eye.

To schedule a telehealth appointment for pink eye, fill out our online telehealth request form. A nurse will call you back soon to schedule your telehealth appointment. During your appointment, your provider will talk with you about your symptoms, and in some cases can prescribe drops without you having to come into a clinic. And if your provider does determine that you need to be seen in one of our urgent care clinics, your telehealth visit streamlines and simplifies your office visit.

Get Relief Today

At MedHelp, we can treat all kinds of urgent care issues, from stitches to pink eye and everything in between. Our urgent care clinics are open seven days a week with extended hours on the weekdays.