Conjunctivitis, commonly known as Pink Eye, is a generic term for any inflammation of the top layer of “skin” on the eye itself. There are different causes of pink eye so antibiotics are not necessarily the appropriate treatment option for every case. Most commonly pink eye can be caused by viruses, bacteria and allergies.
How does my doctor know what sort of pink eye I have? When you speak with your doctor, they will be asking for other clues to determine the cause of your pink eye. With allergic conjunctivitis, one or both eyes may be affected. The common symptoms are itchy, watery eyes and people typically describe it as a feeling of sand in the eye. You may also get the classic allergy symptoms of sneezing, runny nose and dry cough.
Viruses can cause pink eye and it may appear strikingly similar to allergic conjunctivitis, however, people usually feel much worse and can have fever, chills and body aches. Certain viruses, such as Herpes, can cause more serious complications to the eye and need an urgent evaluation by an Ophthalmologist to preserve vision.
Bacterial conjunctivitis is what the majority of the people think they have which requires antibiotics. With this type of pink eye, typically one eye is affected and has purulent discharge and crusting present to just one eye. Bacterial and viral conjunctivitis are both contagious so be sure to properly wash hands and avoid sharing face towels with others to spare them the grief of the infection.
Often times people think they have pink eye and it is something else. Foreign bodies in the eye can present similar to pink eye, but complications such as corneal abrasion can occur if you have a foreign body in your eye. Red flag symptoms that require emergent evaluation with a doctor would be if you have a painful, red eye with vision loss. In this case, do not delay and be sure to get the appropriate medical attention immediately. Anything which threatens life, limb or vision is considered a medical emergency.