What Does Pink Eye Look Like?

Pink eye is a pink or red appearance of the conjunctiva of the eye. The conjunctiva is a layer of tissue that covers the white part of your eyeball and your inner eyelid. Pink eye also is called conjunctivitis, a term that is commonly associated with viral conjunctivitis.

There are different types of pink eye, but many types may look similar. It's often hard to know what is causing pink eye without seeing a healthcare provider.

Some classic symptoms of pink eye include:

  • Tearing
  • Discharge
  • Crusting around the eye
  • Blurry vision
  • Burning eyes
  • Light sensitivity
  • Itchy eyes
  • Painful eyes

Pink eye usually goes away after a week or two. If it lasts longer than that, it's time to see your primary care healthcare provider or an eye healthcare provider.

Pictures of Different Types of Pink Eye

Bacterial Conjunctivitis

Bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by a bacterial infection.

Some symptoms of bacterial conjunctivitis include:

  • A red eye
  • Inability to place a contact lens in the infected eye
  • Irritation
  • Tearing
  • Discharge from the eye
  • Crusting around the eye
  • Diminished or fluctuating vision

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Pink eye

Daniil Dubov / iStock / Getty Images

Treatment for bacterial conjunctivitis usually involves an antibiotic eye drop or ointment. Common antibiotics used for treatment of bacterial conjunctivitis include fluoroquinolones, aminoglycosides, and macrolides.

Your eye healthcare provider may also discuss ways to avoid spreading bacterial conjunctivitis because it can be contagious.

Viral Conjunctivitis

Viruses cause viral conjunctivitis. This can include the same viruses that cause the common cold and COVID-19.

Symptoms of viral conjunctivitis:

  • Blurred vision
  • Symptoms of a cold
  • A darker pink color to the eye instead of red
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Watery discharge
Man with a pink eye.

bukharova / Getty Images

Viral conjunctivitis is contagious. Most cases of viral conjunctivitis go away on their own after one to two weeks. If it doesn't, and if the virus is the herpes simplex or varicella-zoster virus, an antiviral can be prescribed. These infections can also be more painful than other types of viral conjunctivitis, which may prompt you to see an eye healthcare provider sooner.

Allergic Conjunctivitis

Allergens like pollen and dust can cause allergic conjunctivitis, also known as eye allergies or ocular allergies.

Symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis include:

  • Itchy eyes
  • Nasal symptoms such as a runny or stuffy nose: However, allergic conjunctivitis also can occur on its own, without the nasal symptoms.
  • Puffy eyelids
  • Swollen eyes
  • Watery eyes
Close-up portrait of boy with eye allergies.

Sharon Mccutcheon / EyeEm / Getty Images

Eye drops composed of mast cell stabilizers can help treat pink eye caused by allergies. Antihistamines are available as eye drops or in oral forms. Some eyedrops have both mast cell stabilizers and antihistamines in them. Some eye drops for allergy treatments are available over the counter.

You may also be able to reduce the frequency of allergic conjunctivitis by avoiding allergens that cause your symptoms.

Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis

Usually, the inside of your eyelid is smooth. With giant papillary conjunctivitis, the inside of your eyelid becomes red and irritated. This condition is often associated with wearing contact lenses (even if you've worn lenses for many years) or chronic eye allergies.

Symptoms of giant papillary conjunctivitis include:

  • Red, itchy, and painful eyes
  • Swollen eyelids
  • The feeling of something stuck in your eyes
  • Feeling like your contact lens is moving up further on your eyeball when you blink

Treatments for giant papillary conjunctivitis include not using your contact lenses for a few weeks to give your eye time to heal. You also may get eye drops or ointment to help reduce redness or swelling.

Talk to your eye healthcare provider about the type of contact lens solution you should use, as these solutions can sometimes be irritating and lead to giant papillary conjunctivitis. Your eye healthcare provider may advise you to use a different contact lens material or a more frequent replacement schedule, such as using one-day contact lenses.

Ophthalmia Neonatorum

Also called neonatal conjunctivitis, ophthalmia neonatorum is a type of conjunctivitis that happens within 30 days of a baby's birth. It can have different causes and the symptoms differ, depending on the cause. For instance, if it's caused by bacterial Neisseria gonorrhea infection, symptoms can include eyelid swelling and discharge.

Treatment for ophthalmia neonatorum depends on the cause and may include antibiotic ointments or drops or antiviral drugs.

Blocked Tear Duct in Newborns

Our tears help provide moisture to our eyes, and they get into our eyes through tear ducts located along the eyelid. Then, the tears drain out of the eye through tear ducts at the inner corner of the eyelids.

Sometimes, a newborn baby is born with a blocked tear duct, or the tear ducts aren't yet fully formed. This can cause a blockage.

Symptoms of a blocked tear duct include:

  • Redish skin around the baby's eye
  • Tears that accumulate around the corner of the eyes
  • Discharge that is yellow or that looks like mucus

The most common treatment is to massage the tear duct two or three times a day. Your healthcare provider will show you how to do this safely.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Some types of conjunctivitis go away on their own. Other types of conjunctivitis should be evaluated by a healthcare provider.

Set an appointment with a healthcare provider if you have:

  • A lot of discharge from your eye
  • Blurry or decreasing vision
  • Eye pain
  • The feeling of something stuck to your eye
  • Sensitivity to light

Many causes of pink eye are not serious. However, problems such as herpes infections or ulcers can threaten your vision. That's why it is important to see a healthcare provider when you develop signs of pink eye.

Prevention

It's not always possible to prevent pink eye, but there are some things you can do to lessen the chance of developing it or getting it again:

  • Try not to touch your eyes. If you must (such as for putting contact lenses in or taking them out), always wash your hands first with soap and warm water.
  • Wash your hands before you touch your contact lenses to put them in.
  • Do not handle contact lenses with wet hands and do not shower or swim with contact lenses on.
  • Change disposable contact lenses according to any instructions from your eye healthcare provider. Only use sterile contact lens solution, not water.
  • Avoid sharing bed sheets, towels, or other personal care items if you are around someone with viral or bacterial pink eye. These types of pink eye are contagious.
  • If you have had a contagious form of pink eye, wash your bedsheets, pillowcases, and any towels using hot water and detergent. Washing can help you avoid reinfecting yourself. Change these items frequently.
  • Throw away any eye makeup you used before the infection started.
  • If you have allergies that cause eye symptoms, use allergy medicines as needed and try to avoid the allergens that trigger your symptoms.
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8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Conjunctivitis: What is pink eye?

  2. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Bacterial conjunctivitis.

  3. Cleveland Clinic. Pink eye (conjunctivitis).

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Conjunctivitis (pink eye) causes.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Conjunctivitis (pink eye) treatment.

  6. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Giant papillary conjunctivitis.

  7. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Neonatal conjunctivitis.

  8. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Blocked tear duct (dacryostenosis) in children.