How is pink eye (conjunctivitis) diagnosed?

Your ophthalmologist or pediatrician will examine you or your child’s eyes. An acuity test (eye chart test) may be done to see if vision has been affected. Diagnosis of pink eye can usually be made based on symptoms and health history. Rarely are other tests ordered. However, if bacteria are thought to be the cause or if the infection is severe, your healthcare provider may send a sample (cotton swab) of the secretions around your eye to a lab to identify the specific organism.

Are there clues to know if pink eye due to an infection is caused by a virus or a bacteria?

Although the symptoms of pink eye can be the same regardless of cause, there are a few signs your healthcare provider considers to help determine if pink eye is a bacterial or viral infection. These are:

  • Age of patient: Viruses cause most cases of pink eye in adults. About an equal number of cases of pink eye in children are caused by bacteria and viruses.
  • Presence of an ear infection: Ear infections commonly occur together in children who have bacterial conjunctivitis.
  • Large amount of discharge from the eye: This is more of a sign of a bacterial infection.
  • Color or tint of the whites of eye: Salmon color may be a sign of a viral infection; more reddish color could be a bacterial cause.

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