Symptoms of Pink Eye

Eye redness is a common complaint and sometimes has no particular cause or diagnosis. However, sometimes redness of the eye can signify something that needs the attention of a doctor. A "pink" eye, along with other symptoms, may be a sign that you have a case of conjunctivitis, or pink eye. Conjunctivitis is an inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva that lines the eyelid. When inflammation occurs, small blood vessels within the conjunctiva become more prominent, giving a pink or reddish cast to the whites of the eyes.

Who Gets Pink Eye?

Pink eye is a fairly common condition, especially among school-aged children. Pink eye rarely causes long-term vision or eye damage, but it can make the eye extremely red and irritated. Pink eye can be contagious or non-contagious, depending on the cause. Common causes of pink eye include bacteria, viruses, and allergens. It is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of pink eye. If you suspect pink eye, have an eye doctor evaluate the condition to determine if the condition is contagious and to prescribe proper treatment.

The type of pink eye that causes a dramatic outbreak that usually occurs in daycare nurseries and schools is EKC, or epidemic keratoconjunctivits.  EKC can create a contagious eye infection, often referred to as viral conjunctivitis. It is highly contagious and can last as long as a month. EKC occurs mostly in places of close human contact.

Pink Eye Symptoms

Following are common symptoms of pink eye:

  • Eye redness: Eye redness can occur on the inner eyelid or the white of the eye. Inflammation can cause blood vessels to become more prominent, resulting in a pinkish color. 
  • Itchy, scratchy eyes: The eye may become itchy and develop a scratchy sensation. It may feel like something is in the eye that can't be removed. Although it may itch, rubbing the eye doesn't usually bring relief.
  • Eye discharge: A thick or thin discharge may form in one or both of the eyes. The discharge may form a crust during the night, causing the eyes to be pasted shut upon awakening.
  • Light sensitivity: The eyes may develop a sensitivity to light, or photophobia. Bright light entering the eye may cause pain, tearing and discomfort.
  • Tearing: Tear flow may become excessive. The eyes produce more tears in an effort to aid in relief and healing.
  • Blurry vision: Blurred vision is the loss of sharpness of vision and the inability to see small details. Vision may become blurred due to an increase of tears and inflammation.

It is important to know that "pink eye" is a simple term that refers to several medical causes of conjunctivitis. Not all red, irritated, or swollen eyes are caused by pink eye. Many optometrists and ophthalmologists use the term to refer to viral conjunctivitis, a highly contagious infection that can be caused by a variety of viruses. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of pink eye, you should be evaluated by an eye doctor to determine the cause. Your doctor may prescribe medicated eyedrops or ointment to reduce redness and discomfort, and to help prevent spreading the infection.

A Word From VeryWell

Pink eye that is caused by a virus or bacteria is very contagious. This type of pink eye spreads easily and quickly from person to person, especially among children. (Children tend to touch their eyes more frequently than adults.) Pink eye that is caused by allergens or irritants is not contagious. However, it is possible to develop a secondary infection caused by a virus or bacteria that is contagious. It is important to know if you or your child has pink eye in order to prevent spreading the infection to others. You can drastically reduce the risk of getting or spreading pink eye by following a few simple steps:

  • Wash your hands. Use an antibacterial soap. 
  • Avoid touching or rubbing your eyes. If you have to touch your eyes, first wash your hands.
  • Avoid sharing eye and face makeup and makeup brushes. Avoid sharing contact lenses and their containers, and even eyeglasses. 


Boyd, Kierstan. "Conjunctivitis: What Is Pink Eye?" American Academy of Ophthalmology, 4 Oct, 2017.

Catania, Louis J. "Primary Care of the Anterior Segment." 2nd edition, Copyright 1995 by Appleton & Lange, Pp 218-219.