Numerous other medical conditions cause symptoms that are similar to those of conjunctivitis (pink eye).
Conjunctivitis (pink eye) is an inflammation of the conjunctiva caused by infections or allergies.
Depending on whether it’s bacterial, viral, or allergic, pink eye can cause the following symptoms:
- grittiness, or feelings of something stuck in your eye
- swollen eyelids
- wateriness or discharge
- blurry vision
- sensitivity to light
- mild pain
However, numerous other conditions can cause these symptoms, too. Read on to learn more about these conditions and how they are different from pink eye.
Eye redness, irritation, and discharge are all hallmark symptoms of pink eye. However, some of these same symptoms may also be seen in other eye conditions.
If you’re experiencing any eye discomfort or vision issues, it is always best to visit a doctor so they can make a proper diagnosis.
A stye is most likely to develop along the eyelashes, though it can sometimes grow inside of your eyelid. While a stye may sometimes cause eye redness, it’s best known as a red, painful bump that looks like a pimple. Eyelid swelling is also common.
Blepharitis is inflammation of the eyelid. What sets blepharitis apart from pink eye is swelling of the eyelid and symptoms of dryness. Also, unlike pink eye, blepharitis can cause your eyes to produce foamy tears.
Keratitis is inflammation of the cornea in the front of your eye. It shares all the same symptoms with pink eye, except keratitis may be more painful.
Iritis or uveitis
Uveitis is an inner eye inflammation caused by certain cancers, autoimmune diseases, and infections. Iritis is a type of uveitis called anterior uveitis.
What distinguishes uveitis from pink eye is that you may experience floaters if you have inflammation in the back of your eye. These are squiggly lines or dark spots that move over your vision. If you have inflammation in the front of your eye, you may be very sensitive to light.
Glaucoma is a type of degenerative eye disease caused by damage to the optic nerve behind your eye. Early cases often don’t have symptoms, though advanced cases can cause vision issues. Unlike pink eye, though, glaucoma doesn’t cause redness or discharge.
Eye redness is a possible symptom of allergies. What sets allergies apart from pink eye is that allergies always cause itchiness. Also, while wateriness is possible, eye allergies don’t typically cause discharge that pink eye can.
Dry eye is a common condition caused by a lack of tears in your eyes. The symptoms are largely similar to pink eye. However, unlike pink eye, dry eye can cause your eyes to sting. Dry eye is typically a chronic condition, while pink eye comes on suddenly.
Episcleritis is an inflammation of the episclera (a clear layer on top of the white part of your eye), and it may develop in one or both eyes. Redness and pain are common, but vision issues and discharge are rare.
Corneal abrasion or other injury
A corneal abrasion is a common type of eye injury that involves a scratch to the cornea of your eye. It’s most often caused by contact injuries and foreign bodies that may get stuck in your eye, such as sand.
Mild to severe pain and vision changes are hallmark symptoms.
A chalazion is a bump on your eyelid. It can become swollen, red, and tender, sometimes leading to widespread eyelid swelling.
Scleritis is an inflammation of the sclera, the white part of your eye. It most commonly appears in one eye and shares similar symptoms with pink eye, except for thick eye discharge. Pain from scleritis can extend from your eye to your jaw, as well as the rest of your face and head.
Consider seeing a doctor if:
- your symptoms don’t improve after a few days
- you have symptoms of an eye infection
- you’ve experienced an eye injury
- your symptoms may be related to a chronic medical condition, such as an autoimmune disease
In addition to symptom differences, here’s how pink eye and commonly confused conditions are treated:
|Pink eye||• cool compresses|
• artificial tears
• antibiotic eye drops (for bacterial conjunctivitis only)
• allergy eye drops (for allergic conjunctivitis)
• warm compresses
• surgery to drain the bump
|Blepharitis||• artificial tears|
• steroid eye drops
• warm compresses
|Keratitis||• artificial tears|
• oral antibiotics or antibiotic eye drops (infectious keratitis only)
• nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
|Iritis and uveitis||• steroid eye drops|
• oral or injectable steroids
• steroid implants in your eye
|Glaucoma||• prescription eye drops|
• laser treatments
• surgery to promote fluid drainage out of your eye
|Allergies||• antihistamine eye drops|
• oral antihistamines
• steroid nasal sprays
• allergy shots (immunotherapy)
|Dry eye||• artificial tears|
• immunosuppressive eye drops
• tear duct plugs
|Episcleritis||• artificial tears|
• steroid drops or ointment
• oral or topical NSAIDs
|Corneal abrasion or other injury||• over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications|
• artificial tears
• antibiotic drops to treat or prevent infections
• pressure eye patch or bandage contact lens
|Chalazion||• warm compresses|
• steroid shots
• surgery to help drain the bump
|Scleritis||• OTC pain medications|
• steroid eye drops
• oral steroids or injections
• immunosuppressive medications
Redness, blurriness, and wateriness are all common symptoms of pink eye. However, symptoms associated with pink eye are also caused by other conditions. For this reason, see a doctor to determine the underlying cause so you can obtain the right treatment.