Tips for Understanding Pink Eye

When should you be concerned about a red eye?

Rob Lamberts, MD
4-minute read
Episode #31

It strikes terror into the heart of schools and daycare centers everywhere. It is extremely contagious and can make people miserable when infected. What am I talking about? Flu? Tuberculosis? Ebola virus? No, I am talking about the most dreaded illness in childhood: pink eye.

So why is pink eye so feared? Why is it the Charles Manson of viruses in kindergartens around the country? Well…uh…to be truthful, I’m not really sure. But I am getting ahead of myself. I first need to give you some background.

What Is Pink Eye?

The medical name for pink eye is conjunctivitis. Yes, it does sound like a word you use to sound smart at parties. The conjunctiva are layers of cells on the white parts of the eyes and on the inside of the eyelids. It’s one of the many mucous membranes on the body and it lubricates your eyes so you can open and close them easily. It also protects your eye. Conjunctivitis describes a number of conditions in which the conjunctiva becomes inflamed and turns the eye red.

There are many causes of conjunctivitis, including allergies, viruses, bacteria, swimming in a chlorinated pool, and even foreign bodies in the eye.

As long as the conjunctiva gets red and irritated, it’s called conjunctivitis. Now, the pink eye that we all know and love is caused by a virus.

How Do You Know if You Have Pink Eye?

The typical symptoms of viral conjunctivitis are eye redness, itching or burning, and a crusty, goopy discharge that makes your eyes stick shut when you wake up. The virus is highly contagious, and so will usually eventually infect both eyes. The redness and discharge looks gross and is uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t blur the vision. It typically lasts from 3-5 days. But gross and uncomfortable is not the same as life threatening and dangerous. It’s no big deal, IT’S ONLY PINK EYE.


Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.