Pinkeye is a term that is used quite often by patients in our office. “Pinkeye”, or conjunctivitis, is a term that many people use to reference an eye infection. Conjunctivitis is actually a pretty generic term that describes an inflammatory reaction of the conjunctiva (a thin layer of tissue that overlies the white part of the eye). The conjunctiva is filled with blood vessels, so if the tissue is compromised in any way, the eye will typically turn red.
The fact of the matter is that there are several different causes of conjunctivitis: Allergic, bacterial, viral, inflammatory, etc. If the eye is red, it doesn’t necessarily have to be an infection. In fact, most of the cases of conjunctivitis we see in the office are not actually infectious. Infectious conjunctivitis, or “pinkeye” as the general public would describe it, is actually quite uncommon in adults. The incidence of infectious conjunctivitis in children is much higher.
Now…I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea here and assume that the next time you get a red eye, you can go about your business and not worry about spreading your “infection”. My best advice would always be to have the “red eye” checked by your eye care professional first to determine that it is not an infection before you make those assumptions. An eye infection is not something to be taken lightly. If there truly is an infectious component, all steps need to be taken to contain and treat the infection, so it is not spread to others. If the condition is not infectious, most often it still needs to be treated in some way. Many non-infectious red eyes can be far more serious than for instance, a bacterial conjunctivitis. So, either way, get it checked out.
And…if there is any pain whatsoever, the eye needs to be evaluated that day. Make sure your eye care professional can get you in the office as soon as possible.