Pink eye (also known as conjunctivitis) is an infection or irritation of the conjunctiva, a transparent membrane that lines your eyelid and the whites of your eyes. The condition is characterized by a pink or red cast to the whites of the eyes (caused by inflammation of tiny blood vessels in the conjunctiva).
In addition to redness in one or both eyes, pink eye symptoms include itchiness, discharge, sensitivity to light, and blurred vision. Pink eye patients often wake to find their eyes pasted shut by the crust that forms from discharge.
What Causes It?
In many cases, pink eye is caused by a viral or bacterial infection (often linked to the common cold). Viral conjunctivitis is typically associated with a watery discharge, while bacterial conjunctivitis tends to generate a thicker, yellow-green discharge.
Pink eye can also result from seasonal allergies or from exposure to chemicals, smoke, dust, or other irritating substances.
If you experience pink eye symptoms, flush your eye(s) with water and contact your physician promptly. Although bacterial conjunctivitis may need to be treated with antibiotics, other forms should clear up on their own within a week. Be particularly careful if you wear contact lenses or have injured your eye.
Remedies for Pink Eye
To soothe the irritation of pink eye, soak a clean cloth in warm water, wring it out, and apply to your closed eyelids. For allergic conjunctivitis, use cool water instead of warm water.
In folk medicine, the anti-inflammatory herb eyebright is used to create an eyewash thought to ease pink eye symptoms. Although eyebright's effects on pink eye have not been extensively tested, a 2000 study showed that eyebright eye drops may help relieve conjunctivitis caused by inflammation, cold, allergy, exposure to pollution, or physical irritation.
Chamomile is also used in folk medicine to treat pink eye. Brewing a cup of chamomile tea, removing the tea bag and allowing it to cool, and placing the bag over your infected eye may help alleviate irritation.
Is It Contagious?
Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are both highly contagious. To keep the infection from spreading (and prevent reinfection), seek immediate treatment, avoid touching your eyes and sharing towels, wash your hands frequently, change your pillowcase often, and discard your eye makeup.
Stoss M, Michels C, Peter E, Beutke R, Gorter RW. "Prospective cohort trial of Euphrasia single-dose eye drops in conjunctivitis." Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 2000 6(6):499-508.