Maybe it’s allergy season, or maybe you’re working outside on a windy day. Your eyes can become irritated and itchy for all sorts of reasons. A few hours later, you look in the mirror and the whites of one or both of your eyes are bright red.

You wonder why: Is it pink eye? Is it red eye? And what’s the difference between these two eye conditions, anyway?

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Pink Eye vs. Red Eye: What’s the Difference?

What causes your eyelid to twitch and what can you do to prevent this discomfort?
When blood vessels in and around the eye expand because of some form of irritation, the eye and area around it appear red. “Red eye” is the general term for any condition that causes this redness. Red eye can be caused by:

Pink eye (also called conjunctivitis) is a common cause of red eye. While red eye is a very general, non-clinical term, pink eye is the medical term for inflammation of the lining covering the eyeball and eyelid.

Pink eye can be caused by:

  • A virus – The same virus that causes many colds and cases of flu can also cause pink eye. This form is contagious and the most common type of pink eye.
  • Bacteria – Bacterial infections can also result in pink eye. Bacterial pink eye is contagious and may cause mucus discharge from one or both eyes.
  • Allergies – The same substances that cause allergic reactions, like pollen or smoke, can cause non-contagious pink eye.

Learn the Symptoms of Pink Eye

If redness around your eyes is the result of pink eye, you may experience the following symptoms:

In some cases, these symptoms can indicate red eye that is not caused by conjunctivitis. If you’re experiencing an ongoing eye infection, you should check in with a doctor.

Treatment for Pink Eye and Red Eye

Most forms of a pink and red eye will resolve on their own within a week. If you have bacterial pink eye or another type of eye infection, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic. Allergy medicine or eye drops may help improve allergy-related pink eye. If your dry eyes cause red eye, your doctor may prescribe artificial tears. You should seek medical care if:

  • You’re unable to keep your eyes open
  • You have a chemical or foreign object in your eye
  • You experience light sensitivity, severe headaches, swelling, nausea, or fever

About Primary Care

The relationship with a patient and their primary care doctor can be extremely valuable, and that’s what you get with UPMC Primary Care. When you work with a primary care physician (PCP), you develop a lasting relationship. Your doctor will get to know you and your history and can plan your treatments accordingly. Our PCPs offer a variety of services, including preventive care and treatment for both urgent and chronic conditions. With dozens of UPMC Primary Care locations across our network of care, you can find a PCP close to you. Schedule an appointment today.