Pink Eye / Red Eye: Symptoms + Treatment

The term ‘pink eye’ refers most commonly to conjunctivitis, an eye infection associated with redness, irritation, and watery discharge.


Eye redness can be caused by a large variety of conditions, ranging from mild dryness and irritation to severe, vision-threatening diseases.

As a result, it is essential for your ophthalmologist to establish the correct diagnosis and treatment plan.

What Causes a Red Or Pink Eye?

The conjunctiva is a clear, thin membrane that rests on top of the sclera (the white part of the eye.) When this membrane or adjacent tissues become infected or inflamed, its small blood vessels become dilated and cause the eye to look pink or red. This condition is called conjunctivitis, or pink eye.

Unlike dry eye, pink eye is most often caused by a virus much like a common cold, the adenovirus. The condition may go away on its own, and antibiotics are usually not necessary.

Occasionally, a pink eye conjunctivitis may be bacterial rather than viral, and the patient might experience mucous discharge in one or both eyes. If a bacterial infection is suspected, antibiotic eye drops or ointments will be prescribed.

Pinkeye1 Pinkeye2 Conjunctival hemorrhage

What Are Other Causes Of Pink/Red Eye?

Subconjunctival Hemorrhage

A subconjunctival hemorrhage occurs when tiny blood vessels break underneath the conjunctiva. The blood tends to pool between the sclera (white part of the eye) and the conjunctiva (clear membrane covering it) and takes anywhere from days to weeks to clear on its own.

Most commonly, patients wake up noticing that their eye is bloodshot when they look in the mirror, without experiencing any other symptoms. It may look scary, but the hemorrhage won’t affect the eye or its function.


Many people suffer from seasonal allergic conjunctivitis, while others suffer from it year-round.

Allergic conjunctivitis can present in several ways, from mild cases easily managed with over-the-counter antihistamine eye drops to severe ones requiring more intensive treatment. See our section on ocular allergies testing for more information.

Serious Eye Conditions

Some eye diseases accompanied by a pink/red eye can have serious consequences if not diagnosed and treated promptly. These include conditions like uveitis, scleritis, acute angle-closure glaucoma, corneal ulcers, and many others. Redness can be present in just one eye, or both.

It is important to determine the cause of your pink/red eye, and whether the condition requires immediate treatment.

A note regarding Covid-19

Pink eye (conjunctivitis) is most commonly caused by a self-limiting adenovirus, or by a bacterial infection.

However, a COVID-19 infection can cause patients to experience the same symptoms as pink eye.

Please contact your primary care doctor immediately if you experience pink eye symptoms plus any of the following COVID-19 indicators:

  • fever or chills

  • cough

  • shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

  • fatigue

  • sore throat

  • muscle aches

  • digestive problems (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea)

  • new loss of taste or smell

  • congestion or runny nose

Our office offers telemedicine appointments, which can help establish whether your specific condition can be managed from the comfort and convenience of your home.

If Dr. Besser needs to rule out a more serious cause for your pink eye symptoms, he may recommend coming into the office for a comprehensive diagnostic examination. During your appointment, you will have access to our full complement of visualization and diagnostic equipment.

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