University Health Services
McCosh Health Center
Princeton, NJ 08544
Tel 609-258-3141, 609-258-3139


Conjunctivitis ("pink eye")
self-care tips

What is Conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis, also known as "pink eye," is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the clear mucous membrane that covers the white part of the eyeball and the inside of the eyelid. It is most often caused by a bacterial or viral infection, or an allergic reaction. The inflammation of conjunctivitis makes it an irritating condition, but it is usually harmless to sight.

Because conjunctivitis is extremely contagious, it's important to seek early diagnosis and treatment. The symptoms of conjunctivitis can include:

  • redness in one or both eyes, with the blood vessels over the white of the eye more visible and swollen
  • itchiness or pain in one or both eyes
  • blurred vision and sensitivity to light
  • "gritty" feeling in the eye
  • stickiness of the eyelids, with a discharge that forms a crust during the night
  • lining of the eyelids redder or pinker than usual
  • sensitivity to bright light (photophobia)

If you have any of the above symptoms, come in to see a health care provider at Princeton University Health Services to determine which form of conjunctivitis you have and how to best treat it.

Conjunctivitis can be prevented!

Conjunctivitis is very contagious and can be easily passed from one person to another. It is possible to avoid spreading the germs and reduce your chance of becoming infected with scrupulous hand-washing, especially before and after touching your eyes, and if you use computer key boards which are also used by others such as in computer clusters or the library.

It may be helpful to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when you are unable to wash your hands with soap and water. Do not share towels, drinking glasses and bottles, and eating utensils. Also, make sure to dispose of tissues properly -- send them straight into the trash!

Self-care tips:

While it is best to see a health care provider at Princeton University Health Services to determine the exact cause of infection and appropriate treatment, there are a few things that you can do in the meantime to ease the pain and discomfort of conjunctivitis:

  • if you are a contact lens wearer, remove your lenses and wear glasses until one week after the problem is completely resolved
  • discard your contact lenses and all your contact lens solutions, and start with new lenses and fresh solutions when you resume wearing your lenses
  • bathe the eyes with water or water with a pinch of salt in it (remember to wash your hands after touching your eyes to prevent infecting others)
  • soothe eyes with over-the-counter eye cleansing solution, such as sterile saline solutions for contact lens wearers (if it is a bacterial infection, prescription antibiotic eye drops or ointment will be necessary)
  • clean the crusting on the eyelids every few hours with a cotton swab soaked in lukewarm water

Please call Princeton University Health Services for questions, concerns and medical assistance at 258-3141 or 258-3139 24 hours a day for assistance.

Pamela Bowen, M.D., M.P.H.
Director, Princeton University Health Services