Pink eye doesn’t usually lead to blindness, but vision loss can be a rare complication. You need prescription antibiotics to clear your infection and prevent permanent vision damage.
Pink eye is an infection of the most tissue layer that covers the inner eyelids and eyeball. There are many types of conjunctivitis, but most don’t lead to blindness.
In severe or complicated cases of pink eye, you might notice vision changes. There are also specific types of conjunctivitis not associated with typical pink eye. Those could lead to eyesight changes or vision loss.
This article will explore some of the possible symptoms and complications of pink eye, some red flags you should watch out for, and how likely you are to become blind from a case of pink eye.
Vision changes are a possible but rare complication of pink eye.
For most people, pink eye infections will clear up in a matter of weeks, with or without treatment. Depending on the cause of your pink eye infection, antibiotic or antiviral medications may help your symptoms improve faster.
But you’ll typically recover in time without them.
Some cases of pink eye are more complicated than others and can cause severe inflammation, swelling, or pain that can affect the quality of your vision or your overall comfort.
Severe infections of pink eye rarely cause vision loss or blindness, but they may be associated with symptoms like:
How you recover from pink eye and what complications you might develop can depend a lot on your overall health.
People with weakened immune systems either from diseases like HIV or medications like chemotherapy and other immunosuppressants may get sicker and develop more serious symptoms with any kind of infection — including pink eye.
Most causes of pink eye are caused by viruses. Viral pink eye has many origins, but adenoviruses are one of the most common.
- rubella virus
- rubeola (measles) virus
- herpes viruses, including herpes simplex virus, varicella-zoster virus (which also causes chickenpox and shingles), and Epstein-Barr virus
- picornaviruses like coxsackievirus and enterovirus
Common causes of
- Haemophilus influenzae
- Streptococcus pneumoniae
- Moraxella catarrhalis
- Staphylococcus aureus
- Moraxella lacunata
Severe or complicated cases of any of these infections may lead to symptoms that affect how well or how comfortably you can see.
However, conjunctivitis that results in vision changes and then blindness is usually linked to very specific and often rare viral and bacterial infections.
Viruses are the most common cause of pink eye overall, but bacterial infections are more often the cause of cases of conjunctivitis that lead to vision loss or blindness. Hyperacute bacterial conjunctivitis and chronic follicular conjunctivitis are some specific types of pink eye that carry a higher risk of vision loss or blindness.
These are caused by
- Pseudomonas aeruginosa
- Neisseria gonorrhoeae
- Neisseria meningitidis
- Chlamydia trachomatis subtypes A through C
Most cases of pink eye — whether they’re caused by allergies, a virus, or bacteria — usually clear up in 2 to 3 weeks, even without treatment.
The use of antiviral and antibacterial medications may speed up your recovery time, but even people who seek treatment for pink eye can develop more complicated infections.
If your pink eye gets worse over time without treatment or gets worse or doesn’t improve after medical treatment, let your healthcare team know.
In rare cases, even common viral or bacterial pink eye infections could lead to complications like an abscess formation or severe irritation and infection that could damage the function or structure of your eye.
If you develop blurry vision or sensitivity to light with your pink eye infection, these symptoms should go away as soon as your infection clears up.
If you develop complications from pink eye, such as inflammation of the front part of the eye, or you have specific forms of conjunctivitis linked to vision loss, your vision changes could be permanent.
Pink eye doesn’t always require treatment. You can get better without antiviral or antibacterial medications. Common treatments for pink eye that don’t require a visit to your doctor might include things like:
- warm or cold compresses
- gentle and regular cleaning
- lubricating eye drops
However, if you have a medical condition or undergo treatments that can weaken your immune system, or if you develop pink eye frequently, see your healthcare professional or an eye specialist.
Specific forms of conjunctivitis, or severe cases — especially in immunocompromised people and infants — can lead to permanent vision damage if not treated right away.
Pink eye doesn’t usually lead to blindness. Severe cases of conjunctivitis or cases caused by specific types of bacterial infections may have a higher chance of resulting in vision changes or even vision loss.
If you get frequent pink eye infections or you develop a pink eye infection that doesn’t get better after a few weeks, make an appointment to see a healthcare professional or eye specialist. They can examine your eye and help determine what issue may be affecting your eye health.
Treatment with prescription-strength medications like antibiotics or antivirals may be needed to clear your infection and prevent permanent vision damage.