It may sound like a pretty shade of makeup, but in reality, pink eye (or conjunctivitis) can resemble horror movie makeup, including green goo oozing from your eye.
It’s hard not to cringe in fear when someone nearby ferociously rubs a puffy, bloodshot eye. But not every case of pink eye is contagious — or includes the green discharge — says Dr. David Hall, a doctor of internal medicine and pediatrics with Sharp Rees-Stealy, because there are actually three common causes of pink eye.
“The most common cause of pink eye is a virus, but it can also be due to an allergy or bacteria,” says Dr. Hall. “The viral and bacterial forms are very contagious and are passed from person to person similar to the common cold.”
Therefore, Hall suggests treating pink eye like a cold by washing your hands regularly and trying to avoid human interaction as often as possible in the three to five days the infection generally takes to subside.
Viral pink eye
Pink eye contracted from a virus causes watery, sometimes itchy, pink eyes — on one or both eyes — with increased thin discharge and crusting. This type is usually associated with cold symptoms such as a cough, runny nose, congestion or sore throat.
Because most cases of pink eye are caused by a virus, there is no medicine necessary to treat the infection and it gets better on its own, though some people may find relief from over-the-counter antihistamine-decongestant eye drops.
Allergic pink eye
Pink eye contracted from allergies includes itchy, watery eyes — usually in both eyes — swollen eyelids and a runny, itchy nose. It tends to happen in people who have allergies, such as hay fever. Allergic pink eye can be treated with over-the-counter antihistamine eye drops.
Bacterial pink eye
Pink eye contracted from a bacterial infection include copious, thick, often green discharge that lasts all day long — usually in one eye, but can also be in both. There are usually no cold-like symptoms associated with this type. Bacterial conjunctivitis does require antibiotic eye drops prescribed by a doctor.
“Since the majority of people contract viral conjunctivitis, if you have pink, watery eyes with thin discharge and an associated cold, you do not need to see your doctor and antibiotics will not change the course of the illness,” says Dr. Hall, who warns that it may get worse for three to five days before getting better. “If you have thick discharge that persists throughout the day, you should see your doctor to be evaluated for bacterial conjunctivitis.”
According to Hall, the one exception is anyone who wears contact lenses. “These individuals should remove contact lenses immediately, and if (the condition is) not better within 24 hours, should see their doctor as they are at an increased risk of bacterial infections,” he warns.
Once any bacterial or viral pink eye has subsided, Hall suggests sanitizing any objects that could have been contaminated like makeup brushes and eyeglasses. “Depending on the type of contact lenses you wear it may be best to use a new pair or talk to your eye doctor about how best to clean your lenses to prevent re-infection,” he says.
While pink eye is easily treated and usually just takes time, it can be uncomfortable and unsightly, so in a polite way, avoid those who have these symptoms and remember to frequently wash your hands.