Pink/Red Eye

Eduardo Besser, MD

Ophthalmologist & Eye Surgeon located in Culver City, CA

Pink/Red Eye


PLEASE READ this important message re: conjunctivitis and Covid-19 Infections

‘Pink eye’ or conjunctivitis is most commonly caused by a self-limiting adenovirus or a bacterial infection. However, a Covid-19 infection can cause patients to experience the exact 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 symptoms:

  • 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


What is Pink Eye?

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

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, establishing the correct diagnosis and treatment plan are essential.

What causes a red or pink eye?

The term ‘pink eye’ refers most commonly to conjunctivitis, an eye infection associated with redness, irritation and watery discharge. This is most often due to a virus much like a common cold (Adenovirus); the condition may go away on its own, and antibiotics are usually not necessary.

However, patients infected with the Covid-19 virus may experience the exact same symptoms. If you experience pink eye-like symptoms, please watch for any additional symptoms associated with Covid-19 such as cough, fever, shortness of breath, muscle aches/pains, stomach problems, loss of smell, etc. If you develop any of these symptoms, contact your primary care doctor right away and get tested for the coronavirus. If you’re experiencing conjunctivitis and Covid-19 symptoms and you’d like an eye exam, please schedule a telemedicine appointment. They are covered by most insurance plans.

Occasionally, a conjunctival infection may be bacterial rather than viral in origin, and the patient may also experience mucous discharge in one or both eyes. If bacterial infection is suspected, antibiotic eyedrops or ointments will be prescribed.

What are other causes of red eye?


Many people suffer from seasonal allergic conjunctivitis, while others suffer from allergic conjunctivitis all year round. Allergic conjunctivitis can present itself in a wide variety of ways, from mild cases easily managed with over-the-counter antihistamine eye drops, to severe cases requiring more intensive management. See our section on ocular allergies here.

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.

More serious eye conditions

However, a number of eye diseases presenting with a pink/red eye can have serious consequences if not diagnosed and treated promptly. These include such conditions as 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 intervention.

Our office offers telemedicine appointments, which can help establish whether your specific condition can be managed from the comfort and convenience of home. If Dr. Besser needs to rule out a more serious cause for your symptoms, he may recommend coming in to the office for a comprehensive diagnostic examination, where he can access our full complement of visualization and diagnostic equipment.