Pink Eye or an Eye Allergy? 7 Ways to Know What's Causing Your Suffering

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Have you ever woken up with your eyes covered in crust, barely able to open them? Or worse, found your eyelashes stuck together? Or maybe a glance in the mirror showed your eyes looking more pink than white?

A quick online search of symptoms explains that you likely have pink eye or an eye allergy. But how are you supposed to know which one? Understanding the difference between these two is key to getting the right treatment so your eyes can return to normal.

What Causes Pink Eye and Eye Allergies?

Pink eye results from inflammation in the eye’s lining and eyelid that causes the capillaries to swell. Called conjunctivitis, the condition occurs when exposed to certain viruses, bacteria, or chemical aggravates. 

Eye allergies, or allergic conjunctivitis, on the other hand, occur when your immune system responds to harmless substances in your environment like pollen, dust mites, or specific foods. This response results in an unnecessary immune system reaction, which sometimes manifests in the eyes.

How Do You Know If You Have Pink Eye or Eye Allergies?

You should seek advice from a healthcare professional when you experience any problem with your eyes. But if you’re trying to figure out the root cause of your eye problem, there are several symptoms that can help you tell the two conditions apart. 

Pink Eye vs. Eye Allergy Symptoms Comparison Chart


In addition to these symptoms, there are several additional ways to determine if it’s pink eye or eye allergies causing the issue:

1. Eye Discharge

Pink eye caused by bacteria generates a yellow or green discharge and crusting around the eyelids. If you wake up to find one or both of your eyelids stuck together, you likely have bacterial conjunctivitis. Your health care provider treats the condition with prescription antibiotic eye drops.

When you have a whitish, watery eye discharge, it may signify viral pink eye. Although your eyelid may not seal shut, it may still form a crust around the eye. A highly contagious form of pink eye, the symptoms are often treated with artificial tears.

2. Blurry Vision

If your vision is blurry, it may also be a sign of bacterial conjunctivitis. The condition passes from one person to another and it’s possible to catch bacterial pink eye from the discharge from other people’s eyes. You should always wash your hands when around someone who has pink eye.

3. Light Sensitive and Sore Eyes

Viral pink eye can also lead to light sensitivity and eyes that feel sore and irritated. It often develops after having a cold or close contact with someone with a cold. Hand washing is, again, important with viral conjunctivitis, as is not sharing pillows, towels, or eye cosmetics with other people. 

4. Limited to One Eye

If only one eye is irritated, red, watery, or swollen, chances are it’s not eye allergies causing the problem. Bacterial and viral pink eye can start in one eye, then spread to the other. Chemical conjunctivitis, which occurs when a foreign body gets into the eye, only affects the exposed eye. It can lead to severe pain, irritation, watering, and light sensitivity. If you think you have chemical pink eye, contact your health care provider. You may need a saline flush or a topical steroid.

5. Both Eyes Are Affected

When both eyes experience the same symptoms at the same time, it’s a tell-tale sign of an allergy-related eye problem. While bacterial and viral pink eye can affect both eyes, in most cases the condition starts in one eye and then moves to the other. But with eye allergies, that’s not the case. The eye discomfort and irritation develop concurrently and manifest in the same way. Over-the-counter allergy medications may reduce your symptoms.

6. Itchy, Swollen, and Watery Eyes

For suffers of eye allergies, it’s not discharge that plagues them. Instead, they tend to experience itchy and swollen eyes that produce watery tears. These symptoms can also cause a sensitivity to light and an increase in symptoms when in the sun or a bright room. If your symptoms don’t respond well to over-the-counter options, a health care provider may prescribe a stronger antihistamine or even corticosteroids.

7. Nasal Congestion

If sneezing and nasal congestion accompany your eye-related symptoms, you’re likely experiencing an eye allergy. These symptoms often develop in tandem and seem to work together to increase your misery. Making an effort to reduce allergens in your home, such as dust mites and pet dander, can help to reduce your allergy symptoms.

Find a solution for your eye allergies.

Eye problems can rightfully cause concern. And a case of pink eye should be examined by a medical professional if it worries you.  For those seeking relief from eye allergies, or other environmental allergies, and looking for a long-term solution, choose Wyndly. Our at-home allergy tests and treatments are easy, affordable, and delivered right to your door. Take our quick online allergy assessment today to see if Wyndly is right for you.

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