I see many patients who come into the office confident they have pink eye. Usually they don’t. Pink eye is just one of many forms of conjunctivitis- inflammation of the surface of the eye. Conjunctivitis is like saying you have a dog, but doesn’t tell you whether it is a poodle, cocker spaniel, etc. Pink eye is just one kind of conjunctivitis.
Some patients tell me they have had pink eye several times in the last year. I know right away they don’t have pink eye, since it does not recur that way.
Pink eye is caused by a virus and is very contagious. You probably do have pink eye if you’ve been exposed to someone else with pink eye, or if you have an associated cold (upper respiratory illness or URI). Because it is a virus, pink eye doesn’t respond to antibiotics.
But most conjunctivitis is not pink eye. It is usually blepharitis, which is a build up of bacteria on the eyelashes that spills over and irritates the eye. How can we tell the difference? Sometimes we can’t. So we treat the blepharitis and if the the symptoms clear up in just a day or two, it is not pink eye and not contagious.
I’ll have a lot more to say about blepharitis later.