Bloodshot eyes? Know the signs of "pink eye," or conjunctivitis |

Bloodshot eyes? Know the signs of "pink eye," or conjunctivitis

Tami Griffith/ Health Roundup
Grand County, CO Colorado

The medical term for “pink eye” is conjunctivitis.

A portion of the eyeball, or the globe of the eye, along with the lining of the eyelid is covered by the conjunctiva.

The conjunctiva is a mucous membrane that is normally clear in color. It offers a protective mechanism as well as lubrication to the eye. When there is irritation to the conjunctiva, it appears red and angry. From a distance, the entire eyeball appears red. However, when viewed up close, the blood vessels in the eyeball appear more pronounced thus leading to the overall red appearance.

Conjunctivitis may be caused by a variety of influences. The most common cause of conjunctivitis is a viral infection. Viral conjunctivitis usually presents as a watery, mucous discharge. The person may report a feeling of sandpaper or burning in the eye. There may be some crusting in the morning and a watery discharge throughout the day. Initially, only one eye is affected. The second eye usually becomes symptomatic in one to three days.

Upon examination of the inside of the eyelid, the tarsal conjunctiva has a “bumpy” surface rather than the normal smoother appearing surface.

In addition, the individual may have some lymph node swelling in front of the ears as well.

Signs and symptoms of viral conjunctivitis may get worse for the first three to five days, then gradually improve. Complete resolution of the virus may take two to three weeks.

A person with Bacterial conjunctivitis may complain of irritation, crusting in the morning, and mucopurulant discharge. The discharge is often white, yellow, or green in color. The eye often appears to pour discharge even after wiping of the area.

N. gonorrhoeae is a severe form of bacterial infection in the conjunctiva. This infection is spread from the genitalia to the hands and to the eyes. This can be spread by direct contact or by contact with contaminated objects or surfaces with this bacteria. The signs and symptoms of this infection occur and progress rapidly. The eye itself is often tender to palpate, copious amounts of discharge, swelling of the eyelids, and tender preauricular nodes are noted as well. This form of infection can threaten a person’s vision and individuals should seek care immediately if they exhibit these symptoms or have been exposed to this bacteria.

Allergic conjunctivitis is often seen in the person with a history of allergies, especially those with allergies to animals and plants. Cat dander appears to be one of the top contenders in some individuals. Airborn allergens come into contact with the eye causing an allergic reaction brought on by the release of histamines and other chemical reactions. With allergic conjunctivitis, both eyes are usually affected and there are complaints of itching and a watery discharge. The inner portion of the eyelid appears “bumpy” upon examination.

The active group that skis or ice skates may notice conjunctivitis due to cold exposure to the cornea. Swimmers may notice similar symptoms due to exposure to chlorine and other chemicals in the water. These groups can avoid these symptoms with the simple use of goggles in most cases.

Infants may experience conjunctivitis symptoms due to their lacrimal duct or tear duct not draining adequately.

Contact Lens wearers are prone to secondary chronic conjunctivitis. They may need a change in their lens type or fit. Soft contact lens wearers have a risk of developing a certain type of keratitis. Keratitis is an inflammation of the cornea. This can lead to ulceration and ocular perforation. Signs and symptoms of this disorder include the feeling of a foreign body in the eye and the person is unable to keep their eye open. This usually requires evaluation and treatment by an opthalmologist


For Viral conjunctivitis, treatment may include topical antihistamines and decongestants to help with the symptoms. Topical lubricants help provide relief to the eyes as well.

Treatment of Bacterial Conjunctivits include an antibiotic ointment or drops for the eyes. Ointment may be easier to use with small children, however, the individual may experinece blurred vision for approximately 20 minutes after instillation of the medication.

Treatment is usually for seven to ten days. It is recommended that contact lens users avoid wearing their contact lens until they have completed their medication and the eye is white and free of discharge.

For those experiencing Allergic Conjunctivitis, treatment may include topical antihistamines and decongestants as well as lubricants for the eyes.

Cool compress to the eyes offer soothing relief in all cases and warm compresses help with the “sticky” eyes experienced by some in the morning.

Return to School or Work:

Persons with a viral infection can usually return to school or work when their symptoms begin to improve in approximately five days. Individuals with a Bacterial conjunctivitis can normally return to school or work 24 hours after starting antibiotic medication.

To prevent the spread of infection, use a wash cloth or towel only once and then place it in the dirty clothes hamper. Also, while symptomatic, do not share tissues, cosmetics, linens, or silverware with others.

Warning signs:

If signs and symptoms continue or increase, sensitivity to light occurs, fixed pupils are noted, severe headache, vomiting and nausea, a decrease in vision is observed, or a severe sensation of a foreign body in the eye, seek medical attention immediately.

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