By Nathan Miller, MD
Clinical Director, Urgent Care Hawaii, Kapolei

So you woke up this morning with a red irritated eye and your eyelids were matted shut with crusty junk. Your vision is normal or clears when you blink and you have a mild gritty feeling in your eye but no serious pain. You may have had some cold symptoms in the past few days like a runny nose or mild cough. Could this be the dreaded pink eye?

A red eye is one of the most common complaints we see in the urgent care setting. It can have multiple causes. Pink eye, or infectious conjunctivitis, is a viral or bacterial infection often caused by the same germs that cause cold symptoms. Just like a cold will make the mucous membranes in the back of your throat irritated, the same thing can happen in your eye. Pink eye creates mild inflammation and mucous production that can be clear or thick. Although not generally dangerous, pink eye is highly contagious. Pink eye often starts in one eye and spreads to the other. Symptoms of pink eye can last anywhere from a few days to two weeks.

Generally, viral conjunctivitis has clear discharge and bacterial will be more thick or purulent, although this isn’t a 100% rule. Pink eye is rarely cultured or tested because it is easily clinically diagnosed and a very low risk condition. Antibiotic drops may help pink eye if it is caused by bacteria, however many cases of pink eye are caused by viruses that do not respond to antibiotics and will resolve on their own.

Warm compresses and cleaning the goop out of the eye may help with symptoms. Try to avoid rubbing the eye or touching your face. Don’t wear contact lenses while symptomatic. Symptoms are mild irritation, redness and discharge. May or may not be accompanied by cold symptoms such as runny nose, sore throat and cough.

Precautions in avoiding pink eye are similar to precautions in avoiding other contagious illnesses. Wash your hands frequently and try to avoid touching your face. Never wear contact lenses for longer than they are intended to be worn. If you are diagnosed with pink eye, you will be told to discard the contacts you have been wearing and use glasses until your symptoms resolve.

While there can be mild discomfort with pink eye, a red eye with severe pain, light sensitivity or vision loss may be a sign of a more serious condition and should be evaluated immediately by a physician. If you or your child develop a red eye, make an appointment to see your primary care physician, or come see us at one of our urgent care centers for same-day evaluation.


Nathan Miller, MD
Urgent Care Hawaii, Kapolei
Clinical Director

Urgent Care Hawaii
Waikiki – Kailua – Kapolei – Pearl City

About Urgent Care Hawaii: Urgent Care Hawaii medical clinics provide immediate and urgent medical care on Oahu for Pearl City, Honolulu, Waikiki, Waipahu, Aiea, Kapolei, Kunia, Waipio, Makakilo, Halawa, Mililani, Kailua and Ewa Beach. The clinics provide quick and affordable options for people needing immediate medical care and treatment for common or everyday health problems seven days a week – no appointments are necessary. The Pearl City location is certified by The Urgent Care Association of America.

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