Is Allergic Conjunctivitis the Same as Conjunctivitis?

Medically Reviewed on 1/13/2022
Allergic conjunctivitis may occur along with sneezing, runny nose, or sinus headache. Many people also find that they are tired and feel agitated.
Allergic conjunctivitis may occur along with sneezing, runny nose, or sinus headache. Many people also find that they are tired and feel agitated.

Whenever your eyes have pink or red in them, you know something isn’t right. Usually, the color is accompanied by itching, soreness, or both. What is going on when this happens?

There are several reasons your eyes turn pink or red. Learn to recognize the differences between them to get effective relief.

What is conjunctivitis?

The inner eyelid (conjunctiva) helps protect and lubricate the eye. The white portion of the eyeball is called the sclera. Conjunctivitis is an infection or an allergic inflammation of the conjunctiva and the sclera. Though infection and allergies both cause the eyes to turn red or pink, it is essential to know why they are different.

Allergic conjunctivitis happens due to inflammation of the conjunctiva. Allergies and allergic reactions usually cause redness in both eyes.

The “pink eye” form of conjunctivitis is an infection of the conjunctiva. Viruses and bacteria are the usual cause of pink eye, which often affects only one eye at first, with the infection often spreading to the other eye later.

Both pink eye and allergic conjunctivitis both cause:

  • Runny eyes
  • Red or pink eyes
  • The feeling of something foreign in the eye

What causes allergic conjunctivitis?

Outdoor and indoor allergens cause allergic conjunctivitis. These environmental allergens get in your eyes, leading to irritation. Some common allergens are:

Chemicals, dust, and smoke can also irritate the eyes and cause inflammation and red conjunctiva and sclera. The eyes are sensitive and easily exposed to these irritants. But eye allergies are not contagious.

There are two types of allergic conjunctivitis:

  • Seasonal conjunctivitis — is associated with spring and summer and is triggered by pollen and grass
  • Perennial conjunctivitis — persists year-round and is triggered by dust and dander

What causes 'pink eye' conjunctivitis?

Pink eye is caused by viral or bacterial infections. These infections can be very contagious and can spread from one eye to another, or from person to person.

Viral conjunctivitis can persist along with cold or flu symptoms. It causes the eye to drain watery liquid. Bacterial conjunctivitis usually has a thick discharge that makes the upper and lower eyelids and lashes stick together. It can often exist along with an ear infection.


Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis) Symptoms, Causes, Treatments See Slideshow

What are the symptoms of both types of conjunctivitis?

Symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis include:

Allergic conjunctivitis may occur along with sneezing, runny nose, or sinus headache. Many people also find that they are tired and feel agitated.

Pink eye symptoms include:

  • Increased tears
  • Pink or red-eye (one or both)
  • Conjunctivas are swollen, burning, and irritated
  • Mucus discharge
  • Eye crust

If experiencing pink eye, your contact lenses may feel painful and will not stay in place.

How do you diagnose conjunctivitis?

A doctor can diagnose what is going on with your eyes. They will determine which type of conjunctivitis you have through a series of tests. Your medical team will take your medical history and perform a physical exam. Specialized blood tests can tell if you have an infection. Skin tests can sometimes identify the specific allergen causing the allergic reaction.

Sometimes conjunctivitis can mimic other eye problems like keratitis, blepharitis, or uveitis. When conjunctivitis is not treated appropriately, it can lead to vision loss.

What are the treatments for conjunctivitis?

Usually, allergic conjunctivitis is treated by:

  • Eye drops
  • Cold compress
  • Artificial tears
  • Allergy immune therapy

Simple things that you can do personally:

  • Wash clothes and bedding often to reduce allergens
  • Bathe before bed
  • Wash your face after being outside
  • Change your contact solution every day and keep your contacts clean

The best prevention is to avoid allergens that affect you.

Your doctor may prescribe antiviral medication to treat the more severe forms of viral pink eye. Your doctor will not prescribe antibiotics because they do not affect viruses.

Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic for bacterial pink eye. The prescription can be in the form of an ointment, drops, or pills. Antibiotics are prescribed when:

  • The patient is immunocompromised
  • There is discharge (pus)
  • Conjunctivitis occurs in people whose immune system is compromised
  • Your doctor believes your pink eye is caused by certain bacteria

Antibiotics shorten infection length and reduce the risk of passing pink eye to someone else.

If you have any of the symptoms above and have pink or red eyes, you should try to be seen by a doctor soon. Early detection of the cause of your eye problem can help to avoid further complications in the future.

Medically Reviewed on 1/13/2022
All About Vision: "Eye allergies vs. pink eye: What's the difference?"

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: "Eye Allergies (Allergic Conjunctivitis)."

Center for Disease Control and Prevention: "Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)."

John Hopkins Medicine: "Allergic Conjunctivitis."