What Does Pink Eye Look Like?

Pink eye, or conjunctivitis seen in an eye.
Pink eye, or conjunctivitis.

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Pink eye is a broad term used to describe inflammation of the conjunctiva in 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. 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 doctor. Some classic symptoms of pink eye include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Burning eyes
  • Extra 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 doctor or an eye doctor. Here are different types of pink eye.

Pictures of Different Types of Pink Eye

Bacterial Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis.

Daniil Dubov / Getty Images

Bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by a bacterial infection. Some symptoms of bacterial conjunctivitis include:

  • A red eye
  • Decreased or fluctuating vision
  • Discharge from the eye
  • Inability to wear a contact lens in the infected eye
  • Irritation
  • Tearing

Treatment for bacterial conjunctivitis usually involves an antibiotic eye drop or ointment. Common antibiotic types used for bacterial conjunctivitis include fluoroquinolones, aminoglycosides, and macrolides. Your eye doctor also may discuss ways to avoid spreading bacterial conjunctivitis as it can be contagious.

Viral Conjunctivitis

Man with a pink eye.

bukharova / Getty Images

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

  • Blurred vision
  • Having respiratory symptoms or a cold
  • A darker pink color to the eye instead of red
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Watery discharge

Viral conjunctivitis is contagious. Most cases of viral conjunctivitis go away on their own after one to two weeks. If it doesn't, an eye doctor can prescribe an antiviral medication for more serious forms, such as conjunctivitis caused by herpes simplex virus or varicella-zoster virus.

Allergic Conjunctivitis

Close-up portrait of boy with eye allergies.

Sharon Mccutcheon / EyeEm / Getty Images

Allergens like pollen and dust 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

There are eye drops called mast cell stabilizers that can help treat pink eye caused by allergies. Another medicine that helps allergic conjunctivitis is an antihistamine, available both as an eye drop or orally. You can help your eye allergies by avoiding or removing the allergen that causes 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. It's 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 avoiding the use of contact lenses for a few weeks to give your eye time to heal. You also may get eye drops or ointment that helps with any redness or swelling. Talk to your eye doctor about the type of contact lens solution you should use, as these solutions can sometimes be irritating and lead to giant papillary conjunctivitis.

Ophthalmia Neonatorum

Also called neonatal conjunctivitis, ophthalmia neonatorum is a type of conjunctivitis that happens within 30 days of a baby's birth and can have different causes. The symptoms depend on the cause. For instance, if a bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhea is the cause, then symptoms can include eyelid swelling and discharge.

Treatment for ophthalmia neonatorum also depends on the cause. There are antibiotic ointments and drops for a bacterial related cause and antiviral drugs if a virus has caused it.

Blocked Tear Duct in Newborns

Our tears help to 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, and that causes a blockage.

Symptoms of a blocked tear duct include:

  • Redder 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. This is something a doctor can show you how to do.

When to See a Doctor

Some types of conjunctivitis go away on their own. Other types of conjunctivitis should be evaluated by a doctor. Set an appointment with a doctor for conjunctivitis 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. Others causes, such as herpes and ulcers, can threaten your vision. That's why it is important to see a doctor to help figure out what is causing your 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 in contact lenses), always wash your hands first with soap and warm 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.
  • Change disposable contact lenses according to any instructions from your eye doctor. Only use sterile contact lens solution, not water.
  • If you have allergies that cause eye symptoms, use allergy medicines. Try to avoid the allergens that trigger your symptoms.
  • If you have had a contagious form of pink eye, wash your bed sheets, 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.
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Article 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.