The term "Pink Eye" is a very common one and can often be confusing in terms of understanding what might be causing an eye to look red or pink. Any time an eye is inflammed, no matter what the cause; the eye will become pink to red in color. This is due to dilation of the blood vessels that supply the white of the eye (the "sclera") or the mucus membrane that covers the sclera called the "conjunctiva." Inflammation of the conjunctiva is commonly and medically termed "conjunctivitis." The causes of Pink Eye include, among others:

  • Infection (viral, bacterial, or other microorganisms)
  • Allergy
  • Toxic
  • Inflammatory (generalized or non-specific inflammation)
  • Trauma.

Infectious conjunctivitis is most commonly caused by a variety of viruses known as adenovirus. These common viruses can in addition to conjunctivitis also cause respiratory infections and common colds.

Viral conjunctivitis often has a mild pink color to the white of the eye, and is associated with tearing, but no discharge of the eye. Currently there are no anti-viral medications for the treatment of common viral conjunctivitis, although research is going on for the development of such agents. Supportive treatment with warm compresses, lubricating agents, and possible anti-inflammatory agents are the current mainstay of therapy.

Bacterial conjunctivitis is most commonly characterized by the presence of a deeper looking redness to the eyes along with a green or yellow purulent discharge and mattering of the eyelids upon waking in the morning. Topical treatment with antibiotic eye drops is very successful in the management of bacterial conjunctivitis. A significant problem however is the development of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. The use of up-to-date, effective antibiotics is key in the management of this uncomfortable condition.

Allergic conjunctivitis is a very common eye condition and is characterized by pink looking eyes along with significant itching symptoms and occasionally associated with a white, stringy type of discharge. The symptoms may be seasonal, or can be year round depending on what the individual patient is allergic to.

Treatment of allergic conjunctivitis includes the use of cold compresses, lubrication of the eyes with tear drops, proper contact lens cleaning and hygiene, and the use of new types of anti-allergy prescription eye drops.

Occasionally a pink looking eye may be associated with a more serious inflammatory condition called "Iritis" or "Uveitis." In rare instances Uveitis is associated with serious systemic general health diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus, and many others. The treatment involves the use of topical and occasionally systemic steroid medications.

Should you or a family member suffer from any type of "Pink Eye," the first step is for you to contact your eye care professionals at North Suburban Vision Consultants. Our expertise and experience will allow you to be properly diagnosed and treated.