Pink eye is a term commonly used to describe conjunctivitis, a medical condition in which the thin piece of tissue that covers the whites of the eyes and the inner eyelids becomes inflamed. The most common causes of this condition are a viral infection and allergic reaction. Symptoms may include pinkness or redness in one or both eyes, morning crusting, and discharge.
What Is Pink Eye?
Pink eye is a layman's term for the medical condition conjunctivitis. Conjunctivitis is inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is the thin piece of tissue that covers the whites of the eyes and the inner eyelids. When the conjunctiva becomes inflamed, it looks pink or red from a distance.
Pink eye is a common condition. It is most common in children, but adults may also get pink eye. This condition does not usually cause any long-term vision or eye problems.
Causes of Conjunctivitis
There are several reasons why the conjunctiva can become inflamed. The two most common are because of an infection with a virus (known as viral conjunctivitis) or an allergic reaction (allergic conjunctivitis).
An infection with bacteria (bacterial conjunctivitis) or something that irritates the eye, such as an eyelash, can also cause the conjunctiva to become inflamed.
Besides conjunctivitis, there are a number of other conditions that can cause a red or pink eye. Some of these conditions can be potentially serious.
(Click Pink Eye Causes to learn more about the different types of conjunctivitis and what else can cause a red or pink eye.)
How Is Pink Eye Spread?
Both bacterial and viral conjunctivitis are highly contagious (see Pink Eye Transmission). They spread by direct contact with infected eye secretions, or contact with objects or surfaces that have been contaminated with these eye secretions (such as a door handle, washcloth, or pillowcase). After coming in contact with these secretions, the unaffected person then touches their eyes.
Once the virus or bacterium enters a person's eye, symptoms do not begin immediately. This period between transmission and the beginning of symptoms is called the incubation period (see Pink Eye Incubation Period).