Do I Have Pink Eye? 5 Issues Mistaken for Conjunctivitis

Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, is an infection of the thin layer of tissue covering the white part of the eye and lining the inner eyelid. It’s most common in children and highly contagious. Fortunately, it’s unlikely to affect your vision. The most common symptom is reddened eyes, but not all reddened eyes are due to pink eye.What is commonly misdiagnosed as pink eye

There are other eye conditions that can be mistaken for pink eye, including:

  • Allergies
  • Styes
  • Iritis
  • Keratitis
  • Blepharitis

Contact our office if you’re experiencing symptoms similar to pink eye. We can perform an exam to tell if it’s pink eye or not and prescribe treatment to help your eyes feel healthy again.

1. Allergies

“Pink eye” usually refers to an infection or inflammation of tissue underneath the eyelids called the conjunctiva. However, the term is sometimes used as a catch-all when people experience similar symptoms. Conjunctivitis comes in three forms — viral, allergic and bacterial. Not only do they share a lot of the same symptoms, but they share many of the same symptoms as allergies, as well.

Common symptoms shared by conjunctiva and allergies include eyes that are:

  • Itchy
  • Watery
  • Burning
  • Pink or red

It’s also common to wake up in the morning with discharge that has built up around your eyes. 

It can be difficult to tell the difference between viral or bacterial conjunctiva and allergies. One of the best ways is to assess your allergy triggers. For example, you may experience symptoms during spring when there’s more pollen in the air, after dusting, or after brushing your pet. In this case, using OTC antihistamines should be enough to treat your allergies.

Click here to learn the difference between allergies, eye infections, and dry eyes!

2. Styes

Styes (hordeolum) can be confused with pink eye due to having itching, redness, and inflammation in common. A subtle key difference is the kind of discharge they produce. Discharge from a stye tends to be crusty while discharge from pink eye tends to be more sticky. Styes also tend to be more tender and are accompanied by droopy eyelids.

Of course, the biggest difference is the small bump on the eyelid or eyelash that usually accompanies a stye. This pimple-like bump is the result of bacteria that has caused the infection or inflammation. A bump at the base of an eyelash is known as an external hordeolum while one inside the eyelid’s oil gland is known as an internal hordeolum

Styes can sometimes be treated easily at home. To start, avoid wearing makeup for a few days if you wear any. Apply warm compresses to the affected area and take pain relievers if it hurts. Never pop a stye. Contact us immediately if the stye doesn’t begin to recede or if it begins to affect your vision. 

3. Iritis

Iritis is when your iris becomes inflamed. Also known as anterior uveitis, it affects the middle layer of your eye (the uvea) located between the white part and the retina. It’s the most common type of uveitis, but its cause in most cases is unknown. It can sometimes indicate that you may have a type of auto-immune disorder or inflammation across your body.  See your doctor immediately if you have iritis since it can lead to serious vision problems.

Iritis can be mistaken for pink eye due to both involving:

  • Redding of the eye
  • Pain or discomfort 
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Diminished vision

The key difference between iritis and pink eye is the part of the eye that’s inflamed. Pink eye affects the outer layer of the eye while iritis affects the inside of your eye. You’ll need to contact our office and schedule a comprehensive eye exam so we can determine which it is and get you the treatment that you need.  

4. Keratitis

The inflammation of the cornea is known as keratitis. Like pink eye, it results in eyes that are red and irritated. However, pink eye is much more common than keratitis, affecting 3 – 6 million people a year versus 70,000 for keratitis. Like iritis, keratitis is a much bigger threat resulting in decreased vision or even blindness.

Some symptoms of keratitis are similar to pink eye. On the other hand, they also tend to be more severe. Patients report more pain with keratitis, along with blurred and reduced vision.

Keratitis is usually caused by contacts that haven’t been cared for properly. This could be due to not cleaning them properly, if at all, and wearing them while you sleep.  It’s extremely important to care for your contacts properly. One way to do this is by using daily contact lenses. They ensure that you use a fresh pair every day, protecting your eyes from developing keratitis.

Want to learn more about the benefits of daily contact lenses? Click here to find out!

5. Blepharitis

Blepharitis can have similar symptoms to pink eye, such as:

  • Swelling of the conjunctiva
  • Watery eyes
  • Eyes feeling itchy or irritated
  • Crusty eyelids and lashes

The difference between the two is which part of the eye is affected. Blepharitis involves the inflammation of the eyelids while pink eye affects the conjunctiva.

The key to treating blepharitis is hygiene. In many cases, washing your eyelids and using warm compresses is usually enough to get rid of the infection. However, we may prescribe medication to fight the infection and control inflammation if the infection doesn’t go away. Underlying issues may need to be treated, such as dermatitis or rosacea.

Are you suffering from irritated eyes but aren’t sure what’s causing them? Contact us today to schedule your appointment!

There are plenty of eye conditions that have similar symptoms to pink eye. It’s common to mistake allergies, styes, iritis, keratitis, and blepharitis for pink eye, but they can have different causes and require different treatments. Your best option is to set up an exam with our team to identify what’s causing your symptoms and get the treatment that you need.

Hardin Valley Eyecare & Optical has been serving Knoxville since 2009. Dr. Travis Thompson and Dr. Catherine Abbott specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of a wide array of eye diseases, conditions, and problems and are committed to improving the quality of life in the Knoxville community through enhanced vision. Located at 10904 Spring Bluff Way, you can schedule an appointment online or give us a call at (865) 888-0892.

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