pinkeyePink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, recently hit the headlines when NBC’s Bob Costas came down with a raging case of it in both eyes during the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Pink eye is an inflammation “itis” of the conjunctiva (clear membrane which lines the white part of the eye) and has a variety of causes.  Blood vessels within the conjunctiva dilate when inflammation occurs resulting in a red or pink eye.  This condition causes severe discomfort, discharge, and in some cases itching and foreign body sensation.  Usually pink eye is caused by an infection (bacteria or virus), allergies, or an environmental irritant.

Bacterial infection (Bacterial conjunctivitis) causing a pink eye may occur with a thick mucus like discharge which often times will cause the eyelids to feel stuck together upon awakening.  Normally only one eye will be affected but it is possible to transfer to the fellow eye.  Bacterial conjunctivitis is known to be contagious, making it important to start treatment (Antibiotic drop, Steroid/antibiotic drop, proper hygiene, discontinuing contact lens wear, discontinue eye cosmetic products) as soon as possible.

Viral infection (Viral conjunctivitis) causing a pink eye may occur with a watery discharge and frequently appears during or after the common cold (Adenovirus).  There are many other viruses such as herpes simplex, varicella-zoster, and HIV that less commonly cause viral conjunctivitis but are more severe in nature.  Viral pink eye often starts with one eye and quickly affects the fellow eye.  This condition is known to be highly contagious and in the case of adenovirus is “self-limiting” meaning it will run its course.  Eye lubricants are often advised by eye care professionals for relief.

Allergic conjunctivitis will often cause itching, watery eyes, and possibly nasal drainage. Usually both eyes will be affected as the irritant typically comes into contact with each eye.  Antihistamine or a combination of antihistamine/steroid drops are commonly prescribed for relief.