How to tell if your pink eye is viral or bacterial

Published on
January 26, 2023

It is estimated that pink eye is one of the most common eye conditions in the United States, with an estimated 6 million cases occurring annually. It can affect people of all ages and bacterial or viral pink eye is highly contagious, especially in children.

What is pink eye?

Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the clear tissue that lines the white part of the eye and the inner surface of the eyelid. The three main causes of pink eye are; viral infection, bacterial infection, or an allergic reaction. In addition to these main causes there are many other conditions that can cause our eyes to be red, painful, or inflamed, which is why it is always best to visit our optometrist for an eye exam in order to properly diagnose your symptoms.  Knowing the cause of pink eye is important for proper treatment and preventing the spread of infection.

How do I know if my pink eye is viral or bacterial?

Symptoms of viral and bacterial pink eye are similar and can include redness, itching, burning, watering, and discharge from the eye. However, there are some differences that can help differentiate between the two types of pink eye:

  • Viral pink eye often starts in one eye and spreads to the other, and is often accompanied by a cold or other respiratory infection. The discharge is usually watery and clear.
  • Bacterial pink eye usually affects both eyes at the same time, and the discharge is thicker and can be yellow or green.

It's important to note that these symptoms can also be caused by other factors such as allergies or irritants, dry eye, eye diseases such as glaucoma, scratched eyes, blepharitis, and many other conditions.

How can I get diagnosed and treated for pink eye?

If you suspect you have pink eye, it is best to see our eye doctor near you for an examination. They can diagnose pink eye and determine the cause. They may also perform a culture or other tests to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment for viral pink eye typically involves self-care measures such as using over-the-counter lubricating drops and avoiding touching or rubbing the eyes. Antibiotics are not effective against viral infections, and the condition usually clears up on its own within 7 to 14 days. 

Bacterial pink eye, on the other hand, is treated with antibiotics, which can be prescribed in the form of eye drops or ointment. It's important to complete the full course of antibiotics as prescribed by our optometrist.

Since there are so many potential causes of pink eye, we recommend seeing our eye doctor to diagnose the cause of your symptoms in order to start the correct treatment and prevent potential complications. 

When should I seek medical attention for pink eye?

If you're experiencing any symptoms of pink eye, it's recommended to seek medical attention. In the event that you are experiencing severe symptoms such as vision loss, severe pain, or have a history of eye disease, call your eye doctor's office right away to schedule an emergency eye exam. One way to find a trusted optometrist is to search for "eye doctor near me", “emergency eye exam near me”, or "eye exam near me".

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