At first, maybe you thought the mild itching in your eye was just related to your allergies or lack of sleep. Over the course of the day, however, the itching has intensified — you can barely keep your fingers away from your eyes as the need to rub them is almost overwhelming.

Then, you look in the mirror — the whites of your eyes are turning pink. Around the edges, you have discharge and crusty material. The itching just won’t stop, and in fact, is getting worse. Now you’re tearing up and your eyes are mildly swollen.

There’s a good chance you have conjunctivitis, more commonly known as pink eye. While many of us have a general understanding of pink eye and associate it with childhood, the infection can affect anyone at anytime. There are a number of causes for conjunctivitis, and some are more contagious than others. Although conjunctivitis is usually minor, it can develop into a more serious infection.


  • Allergic — typically affects those who already suffer from seasonal allergies and is triggered by an allergic reaction or foreign matter in the eye.
  • Infectious — a bacterial or viral infection of the eye. Bacterial conjunctivitis is usually caused by staphylococcal or streptococcal bacteria. Viral conjunctivitis is usually related to the common cold or other viruses, and is typically spread through exposure to coughing or sneezing. Ophthalmia neonatorum is serious bacterial conjunctivitis in newborns exposed to chlamydia or gonorrhea during birth. Untreated, ophthalmia neonatorum may lead to permanent eye damage.
  • Chemical — most often caused by exposure to air pollution, swimming pool chlorine, and other chemicals.


Often the first symptom of conjunctivitis is itching in one or both eyes. A gritty sensation may also be present. Itching and the gritty feeling often lead to excessive tear formation. Discharge from the affected eye is common, as are swollen eyelids. A pink tint to the whites of the eyes is also frequently present, and some people will have increased light sensitivity. Many of these symptoms tend to create an impulse to rub the eyes with the fingers in order to try to find relief. Despite this urge, it is important to resist touching the eyes as certain types of conjunctivitis are highly contagious.


Although conjunctivitis is usually not serious, a proper evaluation will help to determine the type of conjunctivitis and thus the proper treatment and precautions to prevent spreading the infection to others. Your Silverstein Eye Centers physician will review your history, including when the symptoms started, what type of environment you have been in, possible exposure to irritants, the type of symptoms you are experiencing, and how long they have been present. Next you may have a visual acuity test to determine if the infection is impacting your vision. Your doctor will also visually examine the external and internal structures of your eye to ensure that no other damages or infections are present. Depending on your examination, your doctor may take cultures or swabs from the eyes or from under the eyelids for further testing. If you have already begun treatment and your infection is not responding, cultures and swabs are necessary to determine if there may be other factors or types of infection present.

If you or someone in your family is suffering from conjunctivitis symptoms, make an appointment with Silverstein Eye Centers today by calling 816-358-3600.

In our next post, we will discuss treatment options and preventing the spread of conjunctivitis.

Posted January 28, 2014 by Silverstein Eye Centers
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