For many of us, hearing the phrase “pink eye” causes panic and fear of contagion to course through our body. Whether it is through personal experience or anecdotal evidence, we have been conditioned to assume that pink eye is contagious. However, this virus and/or irritation of the eye is a little more complicated then what we give it credit for. Read on to learn about the different causes of pink eye and find out how the cause affects whether or not a form of pink eye is contagious.
Pink Eye: Infection or Irritation?
Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, is the redness and swelling of the mucus membrane that lines the eyelid and eye surface. As we all know, the lining of the eye is usually clear. However, the lining can become swollen once the eye is irritated or infected. Understanding the cause of your symptoms will help determine whether or not the conjunctivitis will be contagious. Although the symptoms for both infected and irritated eyes are similar, there are slight differences in the signs that can help you determine whether your pink eye is due to an infection or irritation.
Pink Eye Infections
Symptoms of viral pink eye include redness of the eye, swelling of the eyelids, an itching or burning sensation in the eyes, clear or slightly thick opaque drainage, and a lot of tearing. Viral pink eye is the form of conjunctivitis that most of us think of when we hear the phrase “pink eye”. Because it is caused by a virus, this form of pink eye is highly contagious.
Another cause of pink eye that is also contagious is conjunctivitis due to bacterial infections. The symptoms for a bacterial infection are similar to viral symptoms but differ in a few key ways. In the case of a bacterial infection, the drainage in your eye will be a gray or yellowish color and can even cause your eyelids to stick together. Another difference in symptoms is that you may experience a generalized pain in your eye rather than a burning sensation.
Compare an eye with conjunctivitis with a healthy eye.
Pink Eye Irritation
Last but not least, there is one form of pink eye that is not commonly associated with infection and is often labeled as red eye or eye irritation. This form of the condition, known as conjunctivitis due to irritation, is the form of pink eye that is not contagious and cannot be passed from one person to the other. Common irritants that can cause this form of pink eye include allergens, scrapes, sores, foreign bodies such as insects, and glaucoma.
The symptoms for each of the three causes for pink eye listed above sometimes overlap, and the treatment for any of these causes is relatively similar. You can always use water to flush the eye of any irritants. If the pain or redness in your eye persists, make sure to see a doctor so they can prescribe you an antibiotic or prescription medicine that has the strength to cure your pink eye. Prescription eye drops, such as Patanol, are also a great way to alleviate pain and redness due to irritation.
When suffering from pink eye, make sure to go over the symptoms with your doctor. This will help both you and your doctor decide if your pink eye is contagious and determine how best to treat the condition.