Blog Hero

What Is Commonly Misdiagnosed as Pink Eye?

Book Your Appointment
A young man with red eyes holding tissues and rubbing his eye in pain.

Many people assume red, irritated eyes are pink eye, a common eye infection. However, pink eye may not be your problem—other conditions requiring your optometrist’s attention can have similar symptoms. An eye exam can help your optometrist figure out what’s bothering your eyes. 

Styes, blepharitis, dry eyes, and uveitis are just some of the conditions patients can mistake for pink eye. While these conditions may have similar symptoms, your eye doctor can help identify the cause of your symptoms and recommend a treatment plan

What Is Pink Eye?

Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, is a common eye infection that can develop in various ways. It’s a common eye problem, particularly among children. It’s usually not a significant concern and can disappear in a few days to weeks. 

Symptoms of pink eye may include: 

  • Red or pink-ish eyes
  • Itchy, burning eyes
  • Crusty eyelids
  • Grittiness
  • Light sensitivity
  • Blurry vision

It’s important to resist rubbing your eyes when you have pink eye, as this can spread the infection. If you suspect you have this condition, seeing an optometrist for a proper diagnosis and treatment can help you manage your symptoms.

What Causes Pink Eye?

Pink eye occurs when bacteria, a virus, or an irritant enters your eyes, causing swelling and redness. Besides irritating symptoms, some forms of pink eye can be severely contagious—easily spreading in places like schools. 

Make sure you frequently wash your hands and don’t share things with others to avoid spreading the condition. However, pink eye isn’t always contagious and can have different causes. 

There are different types of pink eye, including: 

  • Bacterial: Bacterial pink eye develops when bacteria enter your eye. A common cause of this form of pink eye is rubbing your eyes with dirty hands. 
  • Viral: Viral pink eye develops when exposed to an infection like the flu, leading to several uncomfortable symptoms. Like the bacterial version, this form of pink eye is highly contagious. 
  • Allergic: Allergic pink eye occurs due to exposure to allergens. This form of pink eye isn’t contagious and typically disappears when you remove yourself from whatever triggers the reaction, like pet hair, dust, or another allergen. 

Common Misdiagnosed Conditions

If you’ve ever had an itchy, red eye, you’ve likely been told it’s pink eye. However, not all cases of red eyes are due to this infection. In fact, many other conditions can cause similar symptoms.

Some common conditions that can be mistaken for pink eye include: 

  • Blepharitis: Blepharitis is the inflammation of your eyelids, typically occurring when excess bacteria are present near the eyes. This condition can seem like pink eye, but it has several symptoms pink eye doesn’t, like watery eyes and swelling. 
  • Uveitis: Uveitis is the inflammation of the eye’s middle layer, developing when the body fights an infection. Pink eye can easily be confused for uveitis.
  • Dry eye: Dry eyes occur when there are issues with your tear film, leading to dry, irritated eyes. While they can have similar symptoms, pink eye tends to develop more suddenly and cause itchiness, which dry eye does not. 
  • Styes: A stye is an infected oil gland on your eyelid. These infections can cause several painful symptoms—many similar to pink eye. However, you can tell if you have a stye because of the bump it typically causes on your eyelid. 
  • Glaucoma: Glaucoma is a common eye disease that can lead to severe vision loss. Some patients may mistake acute glaucoma for pink eye when it causes discomfort and blurry vision, but it doesn’t cause other pink eye symptoms. 
  • Chalazion: Chalazions are small cysts that develop on the eyelid and are caused by oil buildup. You may not like the look of a chalazion, but they aren’t something to worry about. They typically clear out on their own in a couple of weeks. Like a stye, you can tell a chalazion apart from pink eye due to the bump it usually causes. 
  • Keratitis: Keratitis is the inflammation of the cornea, which occurs due to an infection. Like with pink eye, it’s common to experience redness or blurry vision due to keratitis, but it’s usually more uncomfortable. 

How Can You Treat Pink Eye?

If you suspect you have pink eye, the best thing to do is to visit your optometrist for diagnosis and treatment. Treatment typically involves prescription eye drops or ointment to help manage the infection.

In the meantime, avoid touching your eyes and wash your hands frequently to prevent spreading pink eye to others. Additionally, warm compresses can help alleviate some uncomfortable symptoms. With proper treatment and care, most cases of pink eye clear up within a week or so.

A woman in an optical clinic shaking hands with her optometrist

Don’t Ignore Your Symptoms

While many conditions can have similar symptoms to pink eye, don’t assume there’s nothing to worry about. Whether you have pink eye or another eye problem, visit your optometrist to protect your eye health and vision. Contact Simcoe Optometric Clinic if you experience symptoms of pink eye or another eye problem.

Written by Dr. Matthew Czikk

instagram facebook facebook2 pinterest twitter google-plus google linkedin2 yelp youtube phone location calendar share2 link star-full star star-half chevron-right chevron-left chevron-down chevron-up envelope fax