Pink eye, medically known as conjunctivitis, is a common eye infection that causes redness and inflammation of the conjunctiva (the thin, clear tissue covering the whites of the eyes and the inner eyelids). However, other eye conditions have similar symptoms. These conditions include dry eyes, blepharitis, styes, and keratitis.
Eye conditions sharing similar symptoms can lead to misdiagnosis and potential delays in appropriate treatment. Your eye doctor can determine if you have pink eye during an eye exam.
What Is Pink Eye?
Pink eye is an infection of the conjunctiva. When blood vessels in the conjunctiva become irritated or swollen, the whites of your eyes turn pink or red. Pink eye rarely affects your vision but can cause discomfort and symptoms like:
- Swollen eyelids
- Excessive tearing
- Clear, watery, or thick discharge
- Itching, irritation, burning
- Discharge (pus or mucus)
- Crusting of eyelids or lashes
- Contact lens discomfort
Types of Pink Eye
There are 3 primary types of pink eye, and treatment varies depending on the root cause.
Viral conjunctivitis is caused by the same viruses that cause the common cold. Viral pink eye often presents with redness, excessive tearing, and a watery discharge. Viral conjunctivitis is highly contagious and usually starts in one eye and spreads to the other.
Bacterial infections caused by staphylococcus or streptococcus can lead to bacterial conjunctivitis. Symptoms include redness, a thick discharge, and the formation of crusts on the eyelids, especially during sleep. This type of pink eye is also very contagious and requires antibiotic eye drops to reduce symptoms and promote healing.
Allergies to pollen, dust, pet dander, or some chemicals can trigger allergic conjunctivitis. Symptoms include redness, itching, tearing, and swelling of the eyes. Both eyes are typically affected, and the condition is not contagious.
Eye Conditions That Look like Pink Eye
Irritation, foreign body sensation, and red eyes are common symptoms of conditions other than pink eye. If you have any of these, visit your eye doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment.
Dry eyes occur when your eyes produce insufficient tears or tears that evaporate too quickly, leading to irritation, redness, and a sensation of foreign objects in the eye. These symptoms can easily be mistaken for pink eye.
To differentiate between these conditions, consider factors like how long you use digital screens, if you wear contact lenses, or if you work or live in a dry environment, as these are common causes of dry eyes. Artificial tears, lifestyle adjustments, and, in severe cases, prescription medications can help effectively manage dry eyes.
Blepharitis is an inflammation of the eyelids and shares similar symptoms with pink eye, such as redness, swelling, and crusty eyelashes. The overlapping symptoms often lead to misdiagnosis, delaying the appropriate management.
Unlike pink eye, which primarily affects the conjunctiva, blepharitis primarily affects the eyelids and eyelash follicles. Maintaining proper eyelid hygiene, using warm compresses, and, if necessary, using antibiotics or steroid creams prescribed by an eye care professional can address blepharitis effectively.
Foreign Body Sensation
The feeling of having something stuck in your eye can cause intense discomfort and redness, closely resembling the appearance of pink eye. While the symptoms may be similar, the underlying cause is entirely different.
Foreign body sensation often occurs when a small particle, such as dust or an eyelash, becomes trapped in the eye. Attempting to rub the eye can exacerbate the irritation. Instead, flush the eye gently with clean water and refrain from rubbing. If the sensation persists, or you experience pain, swelling, or pus, visit your eye doctor to prevent any potential damage to the eye.
A stye is a painful and often tender red bump that develops along the edge of the eyelid. It’s typically caused by a bacterial infection, commonly from the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. Styes can form on the upper or lower eyelid and present with swelling, pain, redness, crusting, and tearing.
Keratitis, or corneal ulcer, is inflammation of the cornea (the clear, dome-shaped front surface of the eye). It can result from various factors, including infections (bacterial, viral, or fungal), injuries, dry eye syndrome, and contact lens-related complications.
Symptoms of keratitis can look like pink eye and include redness, pain, sensitivity to light, blurred vision, excessive tearing, and a feeling of a foreign object in the eye.
Early Diagnosis & Treatment
Accurate diagnoses of conditions are paramount for effective treatment and maintaining eye health. While pink eye is a well-known and easily recognizable eye issue, other conditions share similar symptoms and may require urgent intervention to prevent complications. Book an appointment with Urban Optique to discuss symptoms or concerns. Our eye doctors are ready to address and diagnose your condition and recommend the appropriate treatment plan.