What is the Most Common Cause of Pink Eye?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 21 October 2018
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The most common cause of pink eye is an infection from a virus or bacteria, which can be spread easily from one person to another. The symptoms of pink eye may vary depending on whether the infection is caused by a virus or by bacteria; bacterial infections very often result in pus building up in and around the eyeball, sometimes causing the eyelashes to seal shut. The cause of pink eye, whether viral or bacterial, may occur as a result of bacterial transmission to the eye; this commonly occurs when one does not wash his or her hands frequently, or one frequently touches his or her face.

If the cause of pink eye is viral, it is often accompanied by a sore throat or common cold. The pink eye is only one symptom of the overall viral infection, though in some cases, the pink eye can occur independently of other symptoms. It usually clears up on its own after several days, and the itching or burning often associated with pink eye can be relieved with a cold compress or moist towel. People who have a viral infection are advised to avoid touching their eyes and faces, and not to share towels or other garments.


When the cause of pink eye is bacterial, one will need to wash the eye fairly regularly, as pus can build up. This pus can transfer the bacteria, so a pink eye sufferer must be careful to avoid touching the eyes or face. He or she will need to wash his or her hands regularly to avoid transmitting the bacteria. Bacterial infections also usually clear up on their own, but if no progress is noted after several days, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics to speed up recovery.

In rarer cases, an allergic reaction can be a cause of pink eye. The treatment for such pink eye occurrences will vary according to what is causing the allergy, though antihistamines are generally recommended to help clear up the condition. Cold compresses and artificial tears can help alleviate the burning and itching associated with the condition. In very rare instances, conjunctivitis can be caused by contact with chemicals that are caustic to the skin and eyes. If pink eye develops and chemicals are the cause of pink eye, it is important to see a doctor immediately. The symptoms may dissipate after a few days, but some chemicals have the capability to permanently damage the eye.



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