10 Eye-grabbing Causes of Pink Eye

Each year, there are 6 million people in the United States who contract pink eye. This common condition usually resolves itself. However, there can be serious complications in some cases, such as permanent loss of vision. That’s why it’s so important to understand the most common causes of pink eye. 

What Causes Pink Eye?

Also known as conjunctivitis, this condition is caused by any irritation to the eye. Unfortunately, this condition can be quickly spread amongst a group of people, making it a considerable health concern, especially for younger children. Here are the most common causes to look out for… 

10. Wearing Contact Lenses

Young man putting contact lens in his eye, closeup
Africa Studio/Shutterstock.com

Contact lenses may have made correcting your eyesight much more fashionable, but they have also posed some health risks along the way. Pink eye is just one of a few reasons why you should follow the directions on your contacts very carefully. 

Why Wearing Contact Lenses Increases Pink Eye Risk

Contact lenses pose some considerable risks for people with sensitive eyes. Namely, they can trap irritants and make spreading bacteria from hand to eye much more likely. Even contacts meant to be worn for extended periods of time can also lead to this condition. Therefore, make sure to follow the instructions for your contacts to manage this risk. 

One of the most common ways to contract pink eye, though, is by being exposed to an infected person… 

9. Exposure to Infected Individuals

Close up one annoyed red blood human girl eye, health eye affected by conjunctivitis or after flu cold allergy. Looking camera. Disease treatment medicine health concept.
VIDI Studio/Shutterstock.com

One of the most common causes of pink eye is an infection. These infections then are often spread directly from person to person. 

Why Exposure to Infected Individuals Increases Pink Eye Risk

Infected individuals can spread pink eye without even knowing it. Direct physical contact with the infected eye or secondary exposure, like sharing a pair of glasses, can spread conjunctivitis rapidly. This fact makes avoiding this condition especially challenging for young children, as they often lack the skills needed to stop the spread of infectious diseases. 

Pink eye can also be caused by an allergic reaction, which can also be difficult to manage… 

8. Exposure to Allergens 

Sick dejected young man rubs eyes with handkerchief, has allergy to seasonal flowers or plants, cries unhappily, being tired of fighting against allergens, needs good treatments, stands indoor
WAYHOME studio/Shutterstock.com

People often think of pink eye as a bacterial disease, which it can be, but allergies are another common cause.

Why Exposure to Allergens Increases Pink Eye Risk

When an allergen comes into contact with the eye, individuals can experience this condition. How? Well, this allergic reaction causes all of the swelling, redness, and discomfort associated with pink eye. This type of conjunctivitis is not contagious, but should still be treated by either seeing a medical provider or trying some over-the-counter treatments for pink eye. 

Some of the most serious cases of pink eye are caused by an STI…

7. Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

Close up cropped image of a young woman with hands holding her crotch lower abdomen isolated on blue background

Sexually transmitted infections, or STIs, can have serious medical complications. Formerly known as sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, STIs can lead to damage to the reproductive system, mental health consequences, and even smaller side effects like pink eye. 

Why Sexually Transmitted Infections Increases Pink Eye Risk

Certain sexually transmitted infections, like gonorrhea, can cause pink eye in rare cases. This fact has led to the belief that pink eye is, itself, and STI. While that isn’t always the case, pink eye caused by an STI should be treated by a medical provider immediately. This rare cause of conjunctivitis can quickly cause some serious damage to eyesight if left unchecked. 

Pink eye can be caused by bacterial infections…  

6. Bacteria

Man touches his eyes with microbes coronavirus. Patient has eye damage with viral infection. Rapid spread COVID-19. Early isolation measures. Mild form disease. Case infection through touch

Bacterial infections are a leading cause of pink eye, in part due to how infectious they are. 

Why Bacteria Increases Pink Eye Risk

When bacteria is introduced into the eye, it can quickly cause the swelling and discomfort that people associate with pink eye. This variety is particularly hazardous as it can be easily transmitted from person to person. 

When pink eye strikes, many people reach for some eye drops. While eye drops help most, some people may find that they actually create more problems… 

5. Eye Drops

Asian young woman uses eye drops for eye treatment. Redness, Dry Eyes, Allergy and Eye Itching

We turn to eye drops when we face irritation. For some people, though, the cure can be worse than the disease. 

Why Eye Drops Increases Pink Eye Risk

Some individuals are sensitive to the chemicals in eye drops. This sensitivity can cause pink eye. Each brand of eye drops contains a different mixture of chemicals that can contribute to this risk. Neutral eye drops that contain only a saline solution are the safest for people with sensitive eyes. 

Another common risk factor spikes during summer months… 

4. Swimming

Young boy rubbing his eyes wearing goggles after a swim in the pool.

Going swimming during those hot summer months is one of the best ways to cool off. It is also one of the easiest ways to contract pink eye. 

Why Swimming Increases Pink Eye Risk

An unclean swimming pool is like a large, shared bathtub full of bacteria. These bacteria can easily transmit from eye to eye in such an environment. Of course, having too many harsh cleaning chemicals like chlorine can also trigger pink eye in people with sensitivity to those chemicals. 

Another common source of pink eye is right in your own home… 

3. Taking a Shower

White person in shower rubbing shampoo in their eyes

Showers are one of the best ways to stay clean. So, it may come as a surprise that they can also contribute to your risk for pink eye.

Why Taking a Shower Increases Pink Eye Risk

It’s not the shower itself that increases the risk, but rather the water and the chemicals that go with it. Namely, shampoo can get into your eyes and increase your risk of pink eye. Furthermore, water that isn’t properly filtered can also carry bacteria and allergens that can increase your conjunctivitis risk. 

Another cause worth keeping in mind is foreign objects entering into the eye… 

2. Foreign Objects

baby boy plays in a sandbox of the outside and copy space. baby rubs his eyes by hand with the sand. baby rubs eyes with his dirty hand.

Dirt, debris, and even your fingers can contact the surface of the eye and contribute to your pink eye risk. 

Why Foreign Objects Increases Pink Eye Risk

Foreign objects can cause pink eye for two main reasons. The first is that they can easily transmit bacteria, viruses, and other infectious agents underneath the surface of the eye. This transfer can lead to infections. The second is that trauma of a foreign object touching the eye can also trigger pink eye. 

Age is also a risk factor for this condition, although it doesn’t work quite the way you might think… 

1. Age

Sad asian child girl is crying and rubbing her eyes with her hands

When we think of age as a risk factor for illness, we tend to think that older ages are at higher risks. However, with pink eye this trend is actually in reverse

Why Age Increases Pink Eye Risk

Young children and infants are at a much higher risk for pink eye than adults are. Firstly, children are much more likely to practice poor hygiene, meaning they are more likely to bring foreign objects and bacteria into contact with their eyes. This fact also means that they are more likely to contract it from others. Furthermore, infants’ and children’s tear ducts clog much faster. This fact means this group is not only more likely to get pink eye cases, but more severe ones, too.

If you suspect you might have pink eye, there are steps you can take to help yourself feel better. 

What to Do Next

If you suspect you might have pink eye, the best thing you can do is talk to your medical provider. While pink eye is most likely caused by something relatively harmless like allergies, it can also be caused by serious bacterial infections like gonorrhea. Your medical provider can help you spot the causes and get the treatment you need to make a quick recovery. 

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