Pink Eye or Dry Eye - What is the difference

Got Pink Eye or Dry Eye?

Distinguishing between pink eye and dry eye can be perplexing due to their shared symptoms, like the appearance of pink or red eyes. However, despite these similarities, these conditions diverge significantly. The only definitive way to discern between pink eye and dry eye is through a professional evaluation by an optometrist. Our aim is to guide you in identifying which condition you're likely experiencing and provide tips for optimal eye care.

Let's delve into the disparities between pink eye and dry eye, including their causes, symptoms, and effective remedies for maintaining healthy eyes.

Key Points:

  • Accurate diagnosis of pink eye and dry eye, which share symptoms like redness, necessitates assessment by an eye care professional.
  • Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, can stem from bacterial, viral, or allergic origins. Bacterial pink eye manifests with mucoid discharge, while viral pink eye often coincides with a cold.
  • Dry eye results from insufficient tear production or poor tear film quality, leading to symptoms such as grittiness, burning, and excessive tearing.

What is Pink Eye?

Pink eye, medically termed conjunctivitis, affects the conjunctiva—the thin, transparent tissue covering the white part of the eye and inner eyelids. It can arise from various factors, including bacterial, viral, or allergic reactions.

Types of Pink Eye:

  • Bacterial conjunctivitis: Less common than its viral counterpart, bacterial pink eye typically affects one eye and may cause crusting around the eyelashes or a sticky yellowish discharge. Though the majority of cases typically self-resolve within 1 to 2 weeks, common indicators include eyelash crusting and sticky eyelids upon waking, without itchiness. Notably, the discharge associated with bacterial conjunctivitis often exhibits a greenish or yellowish hue, contrasting with the clear, watery discharge characteristic of viral conjunctivitis.
  • Viral conjunctivitis: Often associated with the viruses causing the common cold, viral pink eye may accompany symptoms like a runny nose or ear infection. It is highly contagious, especially among children.
    • Common Cold:
      • The common cold may lead to viral conjunctivitis, resulting in systemic symptoms such as a runny nose, sore throat, or cough.
    • Coronavirus
      • Patients with a SARS-CoV2 infection can present with viral conjunctivitis because coronaviruses present in the tears.
    • Herpes:
      • Herpes simplex virus type 1 is responsible for ocular herpes simplex infections and cold sores. Typically, herpes simplex affects one eye upon viral reactivation. If left untreated, HSV can lead to corneal scarring and vision impairment.
  • Allergic conjunctivitis: Triggered by allergens like pollen or pet dander, allergic pink eye typically affects both eyes simultaneously and may be accompanied by systemic allergy symptoms. Often accompanied by rhinitis, it manifests with itching and swelling of the eyes, severely impacting quality of life.

Symptoms of Pink Eye:

Symptoms vary based on the cause but commonly include:

  • Red or pink appearance of the eyes
  • Inflammation
  • Itching,
  • Burning
  • Mucus or clear discharge
  • Watery eyes
  • Crusting of the eyelids
  • May be accompanied by a runny nose and other signs of the common cold

Diagnosis and Treatment of Pink Eye:

A thorough examination by an eye care professional is essential for accurate diagnosis. Treatment varies depending on the type of pink eye and may include antibiotic eye drops or ointment for bacterial conjunctivitis, symptomatic management for viral conjunctivitis, and identification and avoidance of allergens for allergic conjunctivitis.

What is Dry Eye Disease?

Dry eye has similar symptoms and is often misdiagnosed as pink eye. Dry eye disease, or dry eye syndrome, occurs when tear production is inadequate or tear film quality is compromised. Various factors contribute to this condition, including aging, environmental factors, medical conditions, and certain medications.

Symptoms of Dry Eye:

Symptoms may include:

  • Gritty feeling
  • Sensation of something in the eye
  • Stinging or burning
  • Excessive tearing
  • Light sensitivity
  • Discomfort while wearing contact lenses

Diagnosis and Treatment of Dry Eye:

Diagnosis involves a comprehensive eye examination. Treatment options range from:

Pink Eye vs Dry Eye: Key Differences:

  1. Pink eye primarily causes redness, itching, and discharge, while dry eye leads to sensations of dryness, burning, and excessive tearing.
  2. The causes of pink eye include bacteria, viruses, or allergens, whereas dry eye is associated with aging, environmental factors, and underlying medical conditions.

How They Impact Your Eyes:

Prolonged moisture deficiency in dry eye can lead to inflammation and discomfort, potentially causing corneal scratches or infections. With proper treatment, pink eye often resolves within weeks without lasting complications.


Preventive measures include:

  • Regular handwashing
  • Avoiding touching the eyes
  • Protecting the eyes from harsh environmental conditions,
  • Staying hydrated
  • Taking regular breaks from screens
  • Following proper eye care practices, especially for contact lens wearers

When to See Your Eye Doctor:

Seek medical attention promptly if you experience vision decline, severe eye pain, worsening symptoms, or signs of infection. Regular eye exams are recommended for ongoing management and early detection of eye conditions.


Can you get a pink eye from a fart?

Pink eye, as you now know, typically arises from viral or bacterial infections, or from an allergic reaction. Meanwhile, flatulence - commonly referred to as "farting" - is the body's natural process of expelling gas from the digestive system. It occurs during the digestion of food, resulting in the accumulation of gases. Methane, a by-product of digestion, is released from the body through flatulence or exhaling. Usually, flatulence only carries an unpleasant odour if it contains sulphur gas. However, it's important to note that expelled gas cannot transmit pink eye. In other words, you cannot contract pink eye from passing gas.