Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is a common eye condition. It’s an inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva—the clear membrane covering your eye and the inside of your eyelid. It’s called “pink eye” because the blood vessels in the whites of your eyes become more prominent, making your eye look red or pink.

If you’ve got questions about conjunctivitis, you’re in the right place. In this guide, we’ll discuss different types of pink eye, along with their causes, symptoms, and treatments. 

Types of Pink Eye 

Infographic comparing three types of pink eye

Pink eye falls into three general types: infectious, allergic, and chemical. All the types of conjunctivitis share some symptoms, so knowing how to tell what kind of pink eye you have can be tricky. But being aware of the main pink eye types and their causes can give you clues.

Infectious Conjunctivitis

As the name suggests, this type of conjunctivitis is infectious and highly contagious—meaning it can be spread from person to person. Infectious conjunctivitis can be caused by either a virus or bacteria.

Viral Conjunctivitis 

Viral conjunctivitis is usually caused by viruses like the common cold. But other illnesses like rubella (measles) can also cause this type of contagious pink eye. Sometimes, viral conjunctivitis can begin in one eye and spread to the other eye.

Bacterial Conjunctivitis 

As the name implies, bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by a bacterial infection. Sometimes bacterial conjunctivitis can occur with an ear infection. Conjunctivitis that occurs in newborns is often bacterial in nature.

Allergic Conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis isn’t contagious. People with seasonal or perennial allergies may develop allergic conjunctivitis as their body reacts to an allergen. Common triggers include pollen, grass, dust, mold, or pet dander.

Chemical Conjunctivitis

Chemical conjunctivitis (also sometimes referred to as irritant conjunctivitis) is caused by exposure to environmental irritants. Car exhaust, smoke, other fumes, or chlorine in pools are common triggers for chemical conjunctivitis. It can also occur when contact lenses aren’t cleaned properly.

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Pink Eye Symptoms

As the name proclaims, one of the most common symptoms of pink eye is a pink color or redness in the whites of one or both eyes. However, conjunctivitis typically comes with more symptoms than redness alone. 

Conjunctivitis symptoms can be similar no matter what kind of pink eye you have. But some symptoms are more common in certain pink eye types than in others. 

The following symptoms can appear in one or both eyes:

  • A gritty feeling, like something is stuck in the eye
  • A pink color or redness in the whites of the eyes
  • Burning or irritated eyes
  • Crusty eyes that are hard to open, especially after sleeping (more common in bacterial conjunctivitis)
  • Discharge of mucus or pus (more common in bacterial conjunctivitis)
  • Discomfort when wearing contact lenses
  • Itchy eyes (more common in allergic conjunctivitis)
  • More tears than usual
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Swollen or puffy eyelids

Pink Eye Treatment

Treatment of pink eye will depend on the type. But your doctor might suggest one or more of the following treatments:

How To Prevent Pink Eye

The best way to avoid spreading infectious conjunctivitis is frequent and thorough hand-washing. An infected person should also limit close contact with other people. 

Other prevention tips include:

  • Don’t rub or touch your eyes.
  • Avoid sharing personal items like towels, eye drops, makeup, or contact lens cases.
  • Throw away old makeup, eye drops, facial lotion, and any other products that could have been contaminated.
  • Use a fresh towel and washcloth each day.
  • Change pillowcases often.
  • Clean contact lenses properly.
  • Avoid allergens or irritants.

When To See a Doctor About Conjunctivitis

Sometimes, pink eye or its symptoms can indicate a more serious condition. It’s best to see a doctor if you’re experiencing any of the following:

  • Eye pain
  • Blurry vision
  • Extreme redness in the eye
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Symptoms that get worse or don’t improve

Of course, you should get an eye exam any time your eyes are uncomfortable. Your eye doctor has the expertise to accurately confirm your condition and suggest the best treatment, so you can get relief. 


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