November 28, 2023
what is commonly diagnosed as pink eye

Pink eye is a common eye problem that many people experience. It causes redness in the eyes and can make them feel itchy and gritty. Sometimes, similar symptoms can be caused by other conditions. It’s important to recognize these differences so that the right treatment can be given and unnecessary discomfort can be avoided. In this article, we will explore some common conditions that are often misdiagnosed as pink eye.

More: Do I Have Pink Eye Quiz

Types of Pink Eye

Pink eye can be classified into three main types: viral pink eye, bacterial pink eye, and allergic pink eye.

  1. Viral Pink Eye: This type of pink eye is caused by a viral infection, such as the common cold or the flu. It is highly contagious and spreads easily from person to person.
  2. Bacterial Pink Eye: Bacterial pink eye is caused by bacteria, typically from the Streptococcus or Staphylococcus species. It can occur as a result of poor hygiene, contact lens wear, or an existing respiratory or ear infection.
  3. Allergic Pink Eye: Allergic pink eye is triggered by allergens, such as pollen, pet dander, or dust mites. It is not contagious and often occurs seasonally or when exposed to specific allergens.

Causes of Pink Eye

Pink eye can have various causes, depending on the type of conjunctivitis.

  1. Viral Infections: Viruses, such as adenoviruses or the herpes simplex virus, can cause viral pink eye. It commonly spreads through direct contact with an infected person’s respiratory secretions or by touching contaminated surfaces.
  2. Bacterial Infections: Bacterial pink eye is typically caused by bacteria entering the eye. Poor hygiene, sharing personal items, or coming into contact with infected surfaces can lead to bacterial conjunctivitis.
  3. Allergies: Allergic pink eye occurs when the immune system reacts to allergens. Pollen, pet dander, dust mites, or certain medications can trigger an allergic response in the eyes, leading to inflammation and redness.
  4. Irritants: Exposure to irritants, such as smoke, chemicals, or foreign substances, can also cause pink eye. These irritants can induce inflammation and discomfort in the eyes.

Common Symptoms

The symptoms of pink eye may vary depending on the underlying cause, but some common signs to look out for include:

1)     Redness and Swelling

what is commonly diagnosed as pink eye

A classic hallmark of pink eye – the eyes turning a shade of crimson. The blood vessels in the conjunctiva, those tiny networks of life, decide to pop out and show themselves off, painting the eye with a reddish hue. And wait, there’s more! The eyelids and surrounding tissues can join the party too, swelling up like balloons at a carnival. But hey, the intensity of this spectacle depends on the cause and how seriously it wants to crash the eye’s bash.

2)     Itchiness and Irritation

Pink eye loves to play a little game of irritation with its hosts. The affected eye, or sometimes both, gets that irresistible urge to scratch like a feline on a scratching post. But hold your horses! Resisting the urge to rub or scratch is paramount, my friend. You see, it’s like adding fuel to the fire. Rubbing those eyes can turn a playful pink eye into a contagious conqueror, spreading its dominion far and wide.

3)     Watery or Discharge

Excessive tearing, like an emotional movie marathon, takes center stage. The eyes well up, and tears cascade down the cheeks, expressing the eye’s innermost feelings. But wait, there’s more drama to this tale! Pink eye can unleash a thicker discharge, a sticky concoction that glues the eyelids together, particularly during the early morning rise. Its color palette can range from crystal clear to a touch of yellow, depending on the source of this eye-based performance.

4)     Sensitivity to Light

Bright lights, whether from the sun’s radiant rays or artificial luminosity, become adversaries to the afflicted eyes. They cringe, they squint, they feel the discomfort of the spotlight. Exposure to light amplifies the symphony of pink eye’s other symptoms, making it a performance to remember.

5)     Urge to Rub the Eyes

what is commonly diagnosed as pink eye

The sensation of an irresistible urge to vigorously rub the eyes manifests as a common and multifaceted symptom that can arise from a plethora of conditions, encompassing allergies, the enigmatic dry eye syndrome, or even the intrusive presence of foreign objects lodged within the delicate ocular structures. Accurate identification of the underlying etiology assumes paramount significance in order to ascertain the most appropriate and tailored course of treatment, steering towards optimal relief and resolution of this vexing ocular conundrum.

6)     Crusty Eyelids or Eyelashes

Crusty eyelids or eyelashes can be a sign of blepharitis, which is an inflammation of the eyelids. It can cause redness, swelling, and a buildup of crusty material along the eyelid margins. Proper diagnosis is essential to differentiate blepharitis from pink eye.

7)     Swelling of the Conjunctiva or Eyelids

Swelling of the conjunctiva or eyelids can occur due to various factors, including allergies, infections, or underlying eye conditions. It’s crucial to identify the specific cause of the swelling to provide appropriate treatment and management.

8)     Feeling a Foreign Object in the Eye(s)

Feeling a foreign object in the eye(s) can be indicative of a corneal abrasion or a foreign body lodged in the eye. Prompt evaluation is necessary to determine the presence of a foreign object and prevent potential complications.

9)     Contact Lenses Feel Uncomfortable or Shift Frequently

Discomfort or frequent shifting of contact lenses can be a sign of dry eyes, improper lens fit, or other lens-related issues. It’s important to consult with an eye care professional to assess the contact lens fit and address any underlying problems.

Commonly Misdiagnosed as Pink Eyes

1. Allergic Conjunctivitis

When airborne particles, such as pollen, animal fur, or tiny dust mites, make contact with the ocular organs, they have the potential to trigger a condition known as allergic conjunctivitisโ€”an ailment that disrupts the delicate conjunctival lining. The emergence of crimson hues, persistent itchiness, and excessive lacrimation bear a striking resemblance to the infamous pink eye. However, it is crucial to note that this peculiar ocular malady, despite its distressing manifestations, is impervious to person-to-person transmission, as it remains immune to the contagious clutches of infectious agents.

More: Super Pink Strain

2. Dry Eye Syndrome

what is commonly diagnosed as pink eye

Dry ocular syndrome is a prevalent ailment that arises when the peepers fail to generate an adequate quantity of tears or when the tears dissipate expeditiously. This may result in ocular redness, vexation, and a perception of desiccation or granular sensation. These indications can be misconstrued as pink eye, particularly in the absence of overt dryness triggers like environmental influences or pharmaceutical consumption.

3. Contact Dermatitis

Ocular contact dermatitis may transpire when the orbs make contact with a bothersome element, like makeup, cleansers, or specific drugs. Manifestations might encompass the presence of redness, itching, puffiness, and a secretion emanating from the eyes. These indicators bear resemblance to those of conjunctivitis, yet they originate from a confined allergic response rather than an infectious agent.

4. Eye Strain

what is commonly diagnosed as pink eye

Ocular exhaustion emerges as a state that materializes when the eyes undergo excessive labor or experience weariness, frequently attributable to prolonged utilization of electronic gadgets or fixating on objects in close proximity for protracted durations. Manifestations may comprise reddening, desiccation, indistinct sight, and sensations of unease within the ocular region. While ocular exhaustion lacks the infectious nature of pink eye, the similarity of its symptoms with conjunctivitis can lead to mistaken diagnoses if the root cause remains undetected.

5. Corneal Abrasion

what is commonly diagnosed as pink eye

A corneal laceration denotes a scrape or harm inflicted upon the cornea, the transparent frontal layer of the ocular sphere. It may induce crimsonness, discomfort, lacrimation, and heightened sensitivity to illumination. Though corneal lacerations lack infectivity, their indications may bear semblance to those of conjunctivitis. Meticulous discernment assumes paramount importance in thwarting complications and fostering recuperation.

6. Uveitis

Uveitis emerges as an irritation of the uveal tract, the intermediary stratum encompassing the ocular globe. It possesses the capacity to incite redness, discomfort, obscured sight, and an increased susceptibility to luminosity. One must exercise caution, as these indicators might be misconstrued as those of the notorious pink eye, particularly in cases where the etiology of uveitis remains undisclosed, be it attributable to trauma or infection. Prudent and expeditious medical intervention becomes imperative in countering the potential encroachment upon visual acuity and the subsequent complications that may arise.

7. Glaucoma

Glaucoma, an assemblage of ocular ailments, has the potential to induce harm to the optic nerve, frequently attributable to heightened pressure within the ocular sphere. Although pink eye and glaucoma might not exhibit comparable indications, specific variants of glaucoma, such as the acute angle-closure variant, hold the capability to instigate ocular reddening, anguish, and visual haziness. Swift assessment becomes imperative to discern betwixt these dual maladies.

8. Blepharitis

Blepharitis denotes an inflammatory state of the eyelids, which may culminate in the manifestation of crimsonness, puffiness, and vexation. Frequently triggered by a bacterial contagion or aberration in the oil glands adjacent to the lashes, this malady may engender signs that occasionally coincide with those of conjunctivitis, thereby engendering perplexity in distinguishing betwixt these two ailments bereft of a comprehensive scrutiny.

More: Blepharitis vs Pink Eye: Differences and Treatments

9. Migraine Aura

Migraine aura refers to visual disturbances that can occur before or during a migraine headache. These visual symptoms may include flashing lights, zigzag lines, or temporary vision loss. In some cases, these visual disturbances can be mistaken for pink eye, particularly if there is no history of migraines or if the headache is absent.

10. Iritis

Iritis, or anterior uveitis as it’s alternatively called, denotes an uprising of irritation within the iris, that captivatingly pigmented segment of the ocular realm. This particular ocular disturbance has the potential to elicit crimson hues, anguish, visual distortions, and an unwelcome vulnerability to luminosity. Beware, for these telltale signs bear resemblance to the infamous pink eye, especially when the root cause of iritis remains elusive, unmarred by trauma or infection. Prompt identification and intervention assume paramount importance to forestall the advent of complications.

11. Stye

A stye (hordeolum) is a distressing bump resulting from a bacterial infection in a obstructed oil gland. The diminutive, crimson bump can expand at the foundation of your eyelash or beneath your eyelid.

Indications encompass:

  1. Inflamed eyelid
  2. Teary eye
  3. Secretion
  4. Sensitivity to light
  5. Sensation of grittiness in the eye
  6. Eyelids or eyelashes with crustiness

12. Subconjunctival Hemorrhage

A subconjunctival rupture arises when a blood vessel within the pristine region of the ocular globe fractures, giving rise to a crimson tinge and a vivid scarlet blotch upon the ocular organ. Despite lacking the infectious nature of conjunctivitis, this peculiar manifestation may induce bewilderment and erroneous diagnostic interpretations. Fear not, for subconjunctival ruptures typically self-resolve sans intervention, thereby obviating the need for medical intervention.

Differences between Pink Eye and Other Eye Infections

  1. Viral Conjunctivitis: This type of conjunctivitis is typically characterized by watery discharge, itching, and redness. It often starts in one eye and spreads to the other within a few days. Viral conjunctivitis is highly contagious and can be associated with respiratory infections.
  2. Bacterial Conjunctivitis: Bacterial conjunctivitis usually causes a thick, yellow or green discharge from the eyes, along with redness and swelling. It can affect one or both eyes and is highly contagious. Prompt treatment with antibiotics is often necessary.
  3. Allergic Conjunctivitis: Unlike infectious conjunctivitis, allergic conjunctivitis is not caused by a virus or bacteria. It is triggered by allergens and causes itching, redness, and watery eyes. Allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious.
  4. Irritant Conjunctivitis: This type of conjunctivitis is caused by irritants such as smoke, chemicals, or foreign objects in the eye. It can cause redness, burning, and excessive tearing. Irritant conjunctivitis is not contagious.


To diagnose pink eye, an eye care professional will perform a thorough examination, which may include:

  1. Physical Examination: The eye doctor will assess the symptoms, examine the eyes, and inquire about any recent exposure to infections or allergens.
  2. Eye Culture: In some cases, a sample of eye discharge may be taken for a laboratory analysis to determine the specific cause of the pink eye.
  3. Allergy Testing: If allergic pink eye is suspected, allergy testing may be recommended to identify the specific allergens triggering the reaction.

Misconceptions about Pink Eye Diagnoses

  1. Pink Eye is Always Contagious: While some types of pink eye are highly contagious, not all cases are. Pink eye caused by allergies or irritants is not contagious.
  2. Only Children Get Pink Eye: Pink eye can affect individuals of all ages, including adults. It is not solely limited to children.
  3. Antibiotics are Always Required for Pink Eye: Antibiotics are only necessary for bacterial conjunctivitis. Viral and allergic conjunctivitis do not require antibiotics. Proper diagnosis is essential to determine the appropriate treatment.
  4. Pink Eye and Red Eye are Synonymous: While pink eye can cause redness in the eyes, not all cases of red eyes are due to conjunctivitis. Other eye conditions or irritants can also lead to redness.

Treatment Options

The treatment for pink eye depends on the underlying cause:

  1. Viral Pink Eye: Since viral pink eye is caused by a virus, antibiotics are ineffective. The infection will typically resolve on its own within one to two weeks, and symptomatic relief can be achieved with cold compresses and artificial tears.
  2. Bacterial Pink Eye: Bacterial pink eye is commonly treated with antibiotic eye drops or ointments to eliminate the bacteria. It is important to complete the full course of medication as prescribed by the healthcare professional.
  3. Allergic Pink Eye: The best approach for allergic pink eye is to avoid the allergens triggering the reaction. Over-the-counter antihistamine eye drops or oral medications may be recommended to alleviate symptoms. In severe cases, prescription-strength medications or allergy shots may be prescribed.

How to Cure Pink Eye at Home

To prevent pink eye and promote recovery, consider the following preventive measures and home care practices or home remedies

  1. Hygiene Practices: Wash your hands frequently, especially before touching your face or eyes. Avoid sharing personal items, such as towels or cosmetics, to minimize the risk of contamination.
  2. Avoiding Allergens and Irritants: Identify and avoid allergens or irritants that trigger pink eye symptoms. Keep windows closed during high pollen seasons and use air purifiers to reduce indoor allergens.

Home Remedies for Pink Eye

  1. Proper Contact Lens Care: If you wear contact lenses, follow proper hygiene practices, such as cleaning and disinfecting your lenses regularly. Avoid wearing lenses when your eyes are irritated or infected.
  2. Cold Compress: Applying a cold compress to the affected eye can help reduce redness, swelling, and itching. Simply soak a clean cloth in cold water, wring out the excess, and place it gently over the closed eyelid for a few minutes at a time.
  3. Artificial Tears: Over-the-counter artificial tear drops can help lubricate the eyes and provide temporary relief from dryness and discomfort associated with allergic pinkeye. Follow the instructions on the package for proper usage.
  4. Avoid Allergens: Minimize exposure to allergens that trigger your allergic pinkeye symptoms. Keep windows closed during peak pollen seasons, use air purifiers in your home, and avoid contact with known allergens such as pet dander or dust mites.
  5. Warm Compress: If your eyes feel dry and irritated, a warm compress can help soothe the discomfort. Dip a clean cloth in warm water, wring out the excess, and place it gently over the closed eyelid for a few minutes. This can help relieve dryness and loosen any crust or discharge.
  6. Remove Contact Lenses: If you wear contact lenses, it is advisable to remove them until the symptoms of allergic pinkeye subside. Contact lenses can exacerbate the symptoms and prevent the eyes from receiving proper airflow.
  7. Eye Rinse: Using a sterile saline solution or an eye rinse recommended by your healthcare professional can help flush out any irritants or allergens from the eyes. Follow the instructions provided with the product.

Breast Milk for Pink Eye Treatment

Breast milk can be used for pink eye, and it has been a home remedy that some people find effective. This milk contains antibodies and natural antimicrobial properties that can help fight against infections, including pink eye.

To employ breast milk for conjunctivitis, you may adhere to these procedures:

  • Thoroughly cleanse your hands with soap and water prior to manipulating breast milk or making contact with the impacted eye.
  • Extract a small number of droplets of breast milk into a pristine receptacle or directly onto a sanitary cotton ball or cotton pad.
  • Delicately administer the breast milk onto the affected eye or eyes, ensuring its intimate encounter with the afflicted regions.
  • Reiterate this course of action multiple times throughout the day or whenever necessary.

When should you see a doctor for your Pink Eye

When you have pink eye, it is generally recommended to see a doctor under the following circumstances:

  1. Persistent Symptoms: If your pink eye symptoms persist or worsen after a few days of home care, it is advisable to seek medical attention. This is especially important if the redness, itching, and discharge do not show signs of improvement.
  2. Severe Symptoms: If you experience severe pain, intense redness, significant swelling, or changes in vision, it is crucial to see a doctor promptly. These symptoms may indicate a more serious underlying condition or a different eye infection that requires medical intervention.
  3. Contact Lens Wearers: If you wear contact lenses and develop pink eye symptoms, it is recommended to visit a doctor. Contact lens wearers are at a higher risk of developing complications from eye infections, so early diagnosis and appropriate treatment are essential.
  4. Suspected Bacterial Infection: If you suspect that your pink eye is caused by a bacterial infection, it is advisable to see a doctor. Bacterial conjunctivitis often requires antibiotic treatment to resolve the infection effectively and prevent it from spreading to others.
  5. Systemic Symptoms: If you experience systemic symptoms alongside pink eye, such as fever, body aches, or respiratory symptoms, it is important to consult a healthcare professional. These symptoms may indicate a more significant infection or illness that requires medical attention.
  6. Recurrent Infections: If you have a history of recurrent pink eye infections or if your symptoms frequently return after treatment, it is recommended to see a doctor. They can evaluate your condition more thoroughly, investigate underlying causes, and provide appropriate management strategies.
  7. Contact with Someone with Contagious Pink Eye: If you have been in close contact with someone who has contagious pink eye, it is wise to consult a doctor even if you are not yet experiencing symptoms. They can assess your risk and provide guidance on preventive measures or early intervention if necessary.


While pink eye is a common eye condition, it is crucial to recognize that several other conditions can mimic its symptoms. Allergic conjunctivitis, dry eye syndrome, contact dermatitis, eye strain, corneal abrasion, uveitis, glaucoma, blepharitis, migraine aura, iritis, and subconjunctival hemorrhage are some of the conditions that can be misdiagnosed as pink eye. Proper evaluation and diagnosis by a healthcare professional are essential to ensure appropriate treatment and management of these conditions.

15. FAQs

Can pink eye spread to the other eye?

Yes, pink eye can easily spread from one eye to the other. It is important to avoid touching or rubbing your eyes and practice good hygiene to prevent its spread.

Is pink eye contagious?

Yes, pink eye can be highly contagious, particularly viral and bacterial conjunctivitis. It is crucial to take precautions and practice good hygiene to prevent its transmission.

Can eye strain cause redness and irritation?

Yes, eye strain can cause redness, dryness, and irritation in the eyes. These symptoms can be similar to those of pink eye, but they are caused by overuse or fatigue of the eyes.

How can I differentiate between pink eye and a corneal abrasion?

A corneal abrasion is a scratch or injury to the cornea, which can cause similar symptoms to pink eye. A healthcare professional can perform a thorough examination to differentiate between the two conditions.

How do you get pink eye?

Pink eye can be contracted from others by directly interacting with their spit, tears, or eye secretions. Pink eye can also be transmitted through contaminated objects like towels, washcloths, pillowcases, or even makeup brushes.

It’s crucial to sanitize these items using hot water and soap to prevent reinfection of yourself or others. Wearing fresh, disposable contact lenses on a daily basis can decrease the risk of infection.

Pink eye is highly infectious, yet it can be remedied. If you have a mild case of pink eye, you might be able to manage it yourself with over-the-counter medications that alleviate your symptoms.

Can Visine be used for pink eye?

Visine, a popular over-the-counter eye drop, is primarily designed to relieve redness and minor eye irritations. While it may provide temporary relief for some of the symptoms associated with pink eye, such as redness and mild irritation, it does not treat the underlying cause of the condition. It’s important to consult with a healthcare professional or an eye doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment of pink eye.

How long does pink eye last?

The duration of pink eye can vary depending on the cause and treatment. In general, viral conjunctivitis, which is the most common type of pink eye, typically lasts for about one to two weeks. Bacterial conjunctivitis may resolve within a few days to a week with appropriate antibiotic treatment. Allergic conjunctivitis can last as long as the individual is exposed to the allergen causing the reaction. It’s important to follow the recommended treatment plan and practice good hygiene to prevent the spread of pink eye.

How to recognize pink eye?

Recognizing pink eye involves observing specific signs and symptoms. Here are some common indicators of pink eye:

Redness: Pink eye often causes redness of the eyes, making them appear bloodshot.

Itching: The affected eyes may feel itchy and have an urge to rub or scratch them.

Tearing: Pink eye can lead to excessive tearing or watery eyes.

Discharge: The eyes may produce a clear or slightly yellowish discharge. This can cause the eyelids to stick together, especially after sleep.

Swelling: Swelling of the eyelids and the surrounding tissues can occur in pink eye.

Sensitivity to Light: Pink eye may cause sensitivity to light, resulting in discomfort when exposed to bright lights.

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