Pink Eye

Nebraska Medicine eye care specialists are experts at treating all types of common eye problems, including pink eye, which inflicts millions of people every year. Few eye care providers have as many sub-specialists under one roof, from experienced general and subspecialty ophthalmologists who specialize in the diagnosis and surgical treatment of eye diseases, to optometrists who provide basic eye care, prescribing contact lenses and glasses and screening for the development of more serious eye conditions.

Patient Guides

What is Pink Eye?

Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is an inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva, which is the outer, normally clear covering of the sclera (the white part of the eye). The eye appears pink when you have conjunctivitis because the blood vessels of the conjunctiva are dilated. Pink eye is often accompanied by a discharge, but vision is usually normal and discomfort is mild.

What Causes Pink Eye?

Pink eye is caused by a bacterial or a viral infection. Viral conjunctivitis is much more common and may last several weeks. It is frequently accompanied by a respiratory infection (or cold).

Allergies can also cause conjunctivitis. Typically, people with allergic conjunctivitis have itchy eyes, especially in spring and fall.

Finally, not all cases of pink eye are caused by conjunctivitis. Sometimes more serious conditions, such as infections, damage to the cornea, very severe glaucoma, or inflammation inside the eye will cause the conjunctiva to become inflamed and pink. Vision is usually normal when pink eye is caused by conjunctivitis. If your vision is affected or you experience eye pain, it is recommended that you see an ophthalmologist.

How Do You Treat Pink Eye?

For viral conjunctivitis, antibiotic drops or ointments usually do not help, but symptomatic treatment such as cool compresses or over-the-counter decongestant eyedrops can be used while the infection runs it course. Unlike viral conjunctivitis, bacterial conjunctivitis can be treated with a variety of antibiotic eyedrops or ointments, which usually cure the infection in a day or two.

Eyedrops to control itching are used to treat allergic conjunctivitis. It is important not to use medications that contain steroids (names of steroids usually end in "-one" or "-dex") unless prescribed by an ophthalmologist (Eye M.D.).

Conjunctivitis can be very contagious. People who have it should not share towels or pillowcases and should wash their hands frequently. They may need to stay home from school or work, and they should stay out of swimming pools.