What Is Commonly Misdiagnosed as Pink Eye: Key Conditions

Jun 06, 2024 | 4 min read

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Allergies, dry eye syndrome, and other eye conditions are often mistaken for pink eye. Recognizing these distinctions is essential for accurate treatment and effective eye care management.

what is commonly misdiagnosed as pink eye

What Is Pink Eye?

Pink eye, medically known as conjunctivitis, is an inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is the thin, transparent layer of tissue that lines the white part of the eyeball and the inside of the eyelids.

There are three primary types of conjunctivitis: 

  • Viral Conjunctivitis: This type is caused by a virus and as mentioned in an NCBI study, viral conjunctivitis is the most common overall cause of infectious conjunctivitis. It usually starts in one eye and can spread to the other eye. Symptoms include watery discharge, redness, and a gritty feeling in the eye. Viral conjunctivitis is highly contagious and can spread through coughing, sneezing, or touching the eyes without washing hands.
  • Bacterial Conjunctivitis: This form is caused by bacteria and can affect one or both eyes. Symptoms include a thick, yellow-green discharge that can cause the eyelids to stick together, especially after sleep. Bacterial conjunctivitis is also highly contagious and spreads through direct or indirect contact with the infected eye or its discharge.
  • Allergic Conjunctivitis: This type occurs due to an allergic reaction to substances like pollen, dust mites, or animal dander. Symptoms include redness, itching, and tearing in both eyes. Unlike viral and bacterial conjunctivitis, allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious.

Common Symptoms of Pink Eye

  • Redness in the white of the eye or inner eyelid
  • Itchiness in the eye
  • A gritty feeling in the eye
  • Discharge that forms a crust during the night
  • Tearing and watery eyes
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Mild pain or discomfort

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and are unsure whether you have pink eye or another condition, you can use the Docus AI Symptom Checker. This tool can help you identify potential causes of your symptoms. However, it is important to remember that online tools are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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Conditions Commonly Misdiagnosed as Pink Eye

Several eye conditions share symptoms with pink eye, making accurate diagnosis crucial. Understanding these conditions can help you seek the appropriate treatment and avoid unnecessary complications.

1. Allergies

Allergies often come with additional nasal symptoms like sneezing, a runny nose, and congestion, which are not typical of pink eye. The itchiness and redness in allergic conjunctivitis are usually accompanied by these nasal symptoms, providing a clue that the condition is allergy-related rather than infectious.


  • Antihistamines
  • Allergy eye drops
  • Avoiding allergens

2. Dry Eye Syndrome

Dry eye syndrome is a chronic condition where the eyes do not produce enough tears or the tears evaporate too quickly. Unlike pink eye, dry eyes can cause a persistent stinging sensation and discomfort that doesn't go away with standard conjunctivitis treatments.


  • Artificial tears
  • Lifestyle changes to reduce eye strain
  • Using humidifiers

3. Styes (Hordeolum)

Styes are characterized by a painful, red bump on the eyelid, often resembling a pimple or boil. They can cause redness and swelling similar to pink eye but are distinguished by the presence of the bump and localized tenderness.


  • Warm compresses
  • Avoiding makeup
  • Antibiotics if needed

4. Iritis (Anterior Uveitis)

Iritis affects the iris and can cause significant discomfort and sensitivity to light. It often involves pain and can result in floaters in the vision. Unlike pink eye, iritis requires prompt medical attention to prevent complications.


  • Steroid eye drops
  • Addressing underlying causes
  • Wear sunglasses to reduce light sensitivity.

5. Keratitis

Keratitis is an inflammation of the cornea, the clear, dome-shaped surface that covers the front of the eye. While keratitis and pink eye share symptoms such as redness and irritation, keratitis is often more painful and can lead to blurred vision. Proper contact lens hygiene is crucial as improper care is a common cause.


  • Antibiotic or antifungal eye drops
  • Proper contact lens hygiene
  • Avoid wearing contact lenses while sleeping unless prescribed.

6. Blepharitis

Blepharitis involves inflammation of the eyelids and can cause symptoms like redness and discharge similar to pink eye. However, it primarily affects the eyelids and often results in crusty eyelashes and foamy tears, which are not typical of conjunctivitis.


  • Apply a warm compress to your eyelids to reduce inflammation.
  • Eyelid hygiene
  • Antibiotics if necessary
  • Avoid using eye makeup during flare-ups.

7. Episcleritis

Episcleritis is an inflammation of the episclera, the layer of tissue covering the white part of the eye. It often causes redness and mild pain but rarely results in discharge. Unlike pink eye, episcleritis typically affects only one eye and is not accompanied by the same level of discomfort or itchiness.


  • Artificial tears
  • NSAIDs
  • Steroid drops

8. Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a degenerative eye disease caused by damage to the optic nerve. Early stages of glaucoma often have no symptoms, but advanced cases can cause vision issues and eye pain. Unlike pink eye, glaucoma does not cause redness or discharge.


  • Prescription eye drops
  • Surgery
  • Laser treatments

9. Corneal Abrasion

A corneal abrasion is a scratch on the cornea, usually caused by contact injuries or foreign bodies in the eye. This condition causes immediate, severe pain and vision changes, unlike the more gradual onset of symptoms in pink eye.


  • Pain relief
  • Antibiotic drops
  • Protective eye patch
  • Avoid rubbing your eyes to prevent further injury.
  • Use lubricating eye drops to keep the eye moist.

10. Chalazion

A chalazion is a bump on the eyelid caused by a blocked oil gland. While it can cause redness and swelling similar to pink eye, it is generally less painful and more localized. Chalazions often resolve on their own but can sometimes require medical intervention.


  • Warm compresses
  • Possible surgical drainage

Frequently Asked Questions

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Key Takeaways

Pink eye can be viral, bacterial, or allergic, with common symptoms like redness, itchiness, and discharge. Conditions like allergies, dry eye syndrome, styes, iritis, and others can mimic these symptoms. Knowing the differences helps in seeking the right treatment. Always consult a healthcare provider for accurate diagnosis.

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Please Note!This tool is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult a professional before taking any actions.

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