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How to Diagnose, Treat and Prevent Pinkeye

Pink Eye: It’s Not Pretty But There’s No Reason to Panic

By Kelcey Kintner

A few weeks ago, I ran into a friend at the grocery store. I took one look at her son in the shopping cart, with his swollen, red eyes and said, “Pink eye? I’m so sorry. Please stay two aisles away from me at all times.” And then I backed away.  As quickly as possible.

Well, karma came back to get me for my insensitivity because guess who got pink eye a few days ago? Oh yes. Me. None of my kids have it but according to my doctor, I could have picked it up in any public place.

Pink eye (also known as conjunctivitis) is common and often quite contagious. It’s an infection of the outermost layer of the eye and the inner surface of the eyelids.

So how do you know if you have pink eye?

Because your eye will start to feel funny, then turn crusty and pink and you’ll look in the mirror and say to yourself, “Oh crap. I think I have pink eye.”  And you probably do. Symptoms also can include swelling of the eyelids, itching, burning, tearing and a whitish or yellowish discharge from the eye. I know. Very sexy.  You don’t want to get this right before the prom. Luckily, I went to prom 25 years ago.  Now I’m depressed about my age and I have pink eye.

How do you get pink eye?

Pink eye is commonly caused by a viral or bacterial infection or an allergic reaction. Viral infections will go away on their own without medical treatment but bacterial infections need to be treated with antibiotic eye drops. Allergy medications will help those suffering from an allergic reaction.

How do you treat pink eye?

If you suspect that you or your child has pink eye, make an appointment as soon as possible with your doctor. Early diagnosis and treatment will help stop the spread of the infection.

My doctor put me on a seven day antibiotic. No contact lenses during the treatment which is tough for me because I don’t look nearly as good as Isabel in glasses. Plus, my prescription is not exactly up to date. My doctor also instructed me to wear no eye makeup and throw away any eye makeup that I used in the days leading up to the diagnosis.

As a woman who would rather drop her kids off a minute late for school, then show up with no makeup, I did not take kindly to this new fresh face look of mine. But I just focused on sporting fabulous red lips (which as a bonus match my eye!).

So how do you prevent pink eye in the first place?

Pretty much how you avoid a lot of infections. Wash your hands as often as possible. Also, don’t share wash clothes, towels, tissues, contacts or eye makeup.

So far, I have not spread pink eye to my children. Yay! I am really careful to not touch my eyes and wash my hands constantly. But if your kids do contract the infection, don’t panic. It is easily treatable and just be grateful that you don’t have lice. Because I’ve been there too and it’s way worse.

Kelcey Kintner
About the Author

Kelcey Kintner

Kelcey Kintner, an award winning journalist and freelance writer, is a fashion critic for US Weekly, created the humor blog 

Kelcey Kintner, an award winning journalist and freelance writer, is a fashion critic for US Weekly, created the humor blog The Mama Bird Diaries and writes for the Huffington Post. You can follow her @mamabirddiaries or on Facebook. She’s still trying to fit 5 kids on a Vespa. 

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  • Ally

    March 29, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    The last time I had pink eye I ended up in the ER after a severe allergic reaction from the drops. I ended up with a torn cornea. It turns out I’m pretty much allergic to all eye drops. Any time my kids have any eye discharge or they are itching I go crazy with the hand washing. 

    • Isabel


      March 29, 2013 at 2:15 pm

      How scary, Ally! I am so sorry this happened to you.

  • Hi, I'm Natalie.

    March 29, 2013 at 8:28 pm

    Not so fun fact: It’s apparently not too uncommon for this kind of fun to come in threes – pink eye, ear infection, and the all-time-favourite UTI! I learned this the hard way with my never-sick two-year-old. Moral of the story: Make sure the doctor also looks in your kid’s ears when you FIRST go get the suspected eye infection checked out. 

    • Isabel


      March 29, 2013 at 11:22 pm

      wow. how interesting, Natalie! It never hurts to ask.

  • Mona

    March 29, 2013 at 9:50 pm

    The upside to a kid with pink eye is your ped. office is likely to issue a prescription OVER THE PHONE for antibiotic drops in a snap. Days, nights, weekend, whatever- they will call that in for you sight unseen. As long as you promise to keep that pink, crusty eyed, highly contagious kid clear of the waiting room.

    • Kelcey Kintner

      Kelcey Kintner

      March 30, 2013 at 12:20 am

      Yes, while I had pink eye, my friends treated me like I had the plague. It is a contagious infection.

  • Rachel

    April 1, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    I had pinkeye in college from wearing my 2 week disposable contacts about a month too long. Wore glasses for two weeks and called in to work because nobody wants a server with pinkeye handling their food. The wearing glasses part was miserable because my vision was so bad that wearing glasses meant that I basically have no usable peripheral vision, so taking notes in class was a pain. I was always careful with my contacts after that.

    • Kelcey Kintner

      Kelcey Kintner

      April 1, 2013 at 10:03 pm

      I am so glad you shared this because I think a lot of us who wear disposable contacts wear them for too long. Great tip!

  • Jimmy

    April 8, 2013 at 4:09 pm

    I’d highly recommend going to a doctor when pink eye develops, even if you *know* it’s pink eye.  Because you might be wrong.  And you might actually have eye herpes.  Like I did.  During a high school wrestling practice my bare eyeball managed to swipe across the mat, leading to what looked a lot like pink eye being mis-diagnosed as pink eye, which lead to months of the wrong treatment and eventually a good deal of scar tissue build-up over my retina, for which I now have to wear glasses.  The whole situation was miserable, and worse, avoidable.  

  • Jackson

    April 19, 2013 at 8:55 am

    I’d rather pink eye than ringworm. Ringworm was a common sight growing up. We were told you had to be really dirty to get that one, but perhaps this was a judgment born out of insensitivity and ignorance. Pink eye was sort of the safe norm, almost as norm as canker sores. Disposable contacts for a month too long. I didn’t think such a thing was possible.

  • Drew

    May 20, 2015 at 10:32 am

    When I was a kid I would get pink eye all the time and it was the worst! I remember waking up in the morning and not being able to open my eyes they were so bad. Thanks for sharing!