Pink eye (conjunctivitis) is a common condition, especially among children in day care, as well as students and teachers. While it can be controlled and treated, it’s important to know the facts about pink eye, especially if you have kids heading back to school in the fall.

RELATED: Back to School Eye Care

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What Is Pink Eye?

Pink eye is the term for redness and swelling in the eyelid and lining of the eye, which is usually colorless. It can be the result of:

Pink eye caused by a virus or bacteria is highly contagious, so it’s important to be aware of the cause if you or your child has eye inflammation.

What Are the Symptoms of Pink Eye?

Telltale signs of pink eye include:

Pink eye, especially when caused by a virus, often occurs during or after a cold or sore throat, so you may experience other symptoms in addition to these.

RELATED: Keeping Your Eyes Healthy While Wearing Contacts

What Should I Do if I Think I Have Pink Eye?

If you or your child is experiencing these symptoms, call your doctor to ask about the best treatment.

Most forms of pink eye will go away on their own within a week or two. However, if you have bacterial pink eye, your doctor may give you an antibiotic in the form of ointment or eye drops. If your eye inflammation is the result of allergies, allergy medicine or eye drops may help get rid of it.

The most important thing to remember is that both viral and bacterial pink eye are highly contagious. Pink eye can spread from one eye to the other, and it can easily spread between children and adults if a healthy person comes into contact with fluid from an infected person’s eye. It is most often spread by hand-to-eye-to-hand contact.

Preventing Pink Eye

  • DO  remove and throw away contact lenses immediately after symptoms start, and clean or change your contact case.
  • DO  wash your hands often and avoid touching your eyes and face.
  • DON'T  share towels, wash cloths, or pillows with anyone else while you have pink eye.
  • DON'T  wear eye makeup until the condition clears, and don’t share makeup with others.
  • DO  use any medication your doctor prescribes for as long as you’re told, even if symptoms start to clear up.
  • DO  stay home from work/school until after the contagious period passes (two to three days).

You can apply a damp warm or cool washcloth on your eye to sooth irritation, but be careful not to spread the disease to your other eye.

Can Pink Eye Become Something Worse?

Most of the time, pink eye clears up quickly on its own or with medication. However, if it is left untreated and gets worse, it could permanently damage the eye.

Pink eye may also be more of a concern if you wear contact lenses, have an immune system deficiency, or have other medical concerns. It can also be a sign of a more serious medical condition if you experience any of the following:

  • Eye pain
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Extreme redness/irritation
  • Symptoms that last longer than a few days or worsen over time

Call your doctor if you experience any of these or have concerns about your pink eye. If your condition worsens, consider visiting a UPMC Urgent Care location.

About Urgent Care

Sometimes you need care right away, with no time to wait for an appointment. That’s where UPMC Urgent Care comes in. We offer prompt treatment for illnesses and injuries seven days a week, with no appointment necessary. With locations throughout Pennsylvania and Maryland, you can find immediate care close to you – even if your doctor’s office is closed. Our services include treatment for minor injuries and illnesses, physicals, prescription filling, and flu shots and immunizations. Wait times for minor injuries and illnesses are usually shorter than the Emergency Department, and we accept most major insurance. Visit our website to find a location close to you.