What to Do If You Think You Have Pink Eye

As a parent, you never wish for a morning like this: when your child wakes up with a red, itchy, watery eye. (It’s no picnic when it happens to you either.) The fear? It’s conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, which can be very contagious. However, it’s rarely serious and will clear up without any long-term problems if treated promptly.

Fun fact: “Pink eye” is the most searched urgent care term online. That’s probably because about 6 million people in the United States are affected by it each year, adding up to more than 3 million lost school days annually.

What is Conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis is an inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva, which is the membrane on the outer eyeball and the inner eyelid. Conjunctivitis symptoms include red, itchy eyes with a watery or mucus-like discharge, which can vary in color from yellow to green. Translation: It’s uncomfortable and unattractive.

Most pink eye cases – 70 percent – are caused by a virus. Typical viral conjunctivitis is usually accompanied by a cold. So, it’s not uncommon for someone with a cold to wake up with crusty eyelids from the discharge.

3 types of pink eye:

  1. Viral pink eye can be caused by the common cold, measles, chickenpox, and other viruses. Viral pink eye typically runs its course within seven to 10 days and does not require treatment by a medical professional.
  2. Bacterial pink eye is caused by various types of bacteria and usually involves more significant eye discharge, which can be yellow or green in color. Seek medical help if you suspect you have a bacterial pink eye because you’ll need antibiotics. Avoid wearing contact lenses, which can complicate the infection. Learn more fun facts about antibiotics and protect yourself against other common infections.
  3. often caused by seasonal allergies, is accompanied by swollen glands other typical allergy symptoms like itchy eyes,  runny nose, sneezing, dry scratchy throat, and dark circles under the eyes. Allergic conjunctivitis tends to be seasonal, and its course is limited. Simple over-the-counter antihistamines can usually provide relief. There are prescription eye drops that are very effective, but these can be expensive.

Pink Eye Treatment

Good news: Relief from the pink eye is within your control. Follow these simple steps:

  1. Use a warm compress (with a dab of baby shampoo) to gently remove the crust from the eyes.
  2. Be sure to wipe starting at the inside of the eye and moving outward.
  3. Wash hands before and after wiping eyes.
  4. Avoid using contact lenses and eye makeup (discard any that might be contaminated )
  5. Help prevent the spread of pink eye by sanitizing surfaces like countertops and doorknobs, as well as bedding and towels.

However, you need to seek medical care for any of the following:

  • You think your infant has pink eye, as the infection could harm the baby’s vision.
  • You have heavy yellow or green eye discharge.
  • You wake up with your eyelids sticking together.
  • You have eye pain, blurred vision, high fever, or chills.

If you need help assessing and treating pink eye, come see the experts at GoHealth Urgent Care. You can walk in without an appointment, or you can check-in online. We’ll have you back to feeling better in no time.

GoHealth Urgent Care partners with these regional healthcare providers:

Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant