Whitby Family Eye Care, Dr.Leslie Fitzgerald & Associates
25 Thickson Rd Whitby ON L1N 8W8 (905) 728-7017
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Whitby, ON
(905) 728-7017

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Pink Eye vs. Stye: What’s The Difference?

A woman looks at the camera, one of her eyes is red and inflamed with pink eye

When your eye becomes red and irritated, it can be alarming and uncomfortable. Identifying the cause of these symptoms is crucial for effective treatment and relief. Two common culprits are pink eye (conjunctivitis) and styes (hordeolum). Both conditions can cause redness, swelling, and discomfort but differ significantly in their origins, symptoms, and treatments.

Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is an inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva—the clear membrane that lines the inside of the eyelids and covers the white part of the eyeball. It can result from a variety of causes, including viruses, bacteria, allergens, or irritants. On the other hand, a stye is a localized infection at the base of an eyelash or inside one of the small oil glands within the eyelid, typically caused by bacterial infection.

Although their symptoms may appear similar at first glance, the underlying causes and required treatments for pink eye and styes are quite different. Misidentifying one for the other could lead to ineffective treatment and prolonged discomfort.

At Whitby Family Eye Care, we believe that healthy, clear vision is fundamental to your quality of life. Our dedicated team of experienced optometrists and friendly staff are committed to providing comprehensive eye care services tailored to meet the unique needs of every family member, including eye exams and care for eye issues and diseases

What Is Pink Eye?

Pink eye, scientifically known as conjunctivitis, is an inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva – the clear membrane that lines the inside of the eyelids and covers the white part of the eyeball. This condition can be caused by viruses, bacteria, allergens, or irritants.

Symptoms of Pink Eye

Symptoms of pink eye include:

  • Redness in the white of the eye or inner eyelid
  • Increased tear production
  • Thick yellow discharge that crusts over the eyelashes, especially after sleep
  • Itchy or burning eyes
  • Blurred vision and sensitivity to light

Types of Pink Eye

There are various types of pink eye, including: 

  1. Viral Conjunctivitis: Often accompanied by respiratory infections, it is highly contagious but usually clears up on its own.
  2. Bacterial Conjunctivitis: Characterized by a more severe discharge; requires antibiotic treatment.
  3. Allergic Conjunctivitis: Triggered by allergens like pollen or pet dander, and not infectious.
  4. Irritant Conjunctivitis: Caused by chemicals or foreign bodies in the eye.
A blue eye looks into the camera, a swollen red lump us visible on the bottom of it

What Is a Stye?

A stye (hordeolum) is a painful lump on the edge of the eyelid caused by an acute bacterial infection of the oil glands found there. Unlike pink eye, which affects the entire eye, styes are localized.

Symptoms of a Stye

Symptoms of a stye include:

  • A red, swollen bump on the eyelid that looks like a pimple
  • Pain and tenderness in the affected area
  • Swelling of the entire eyelid
  • Crusting along the eyelid margin
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Tearing of the eye

Key Differences Between Pink Eye & Stye

There are a couple of key differences between a stye and pink eye to keep in mind when attempting to distinguish the difference between the two. It is important to understand that the best approach to differentiating the difference between these two eye issues is to visit your eye doctor for an exam.  


  • Pink Eye: Affects the conjunctiva and can spread over the entire surface of the eye.
  • Stye: Localized to the eyelid, typically along the lash line.


  • Pink Eye: Causes widespread redness and swelling within the eye.
  • Stye: Appears as a small, red bump or pimple on the eyelid.


  • Pink Eye: Generally causes discomfort rather than intense pain.
  • Stye: Is often painful, particularly when touching the affected area.


  • Pink Eye: Can produce a watery, mucus-like, or pus-filled discharge.
  • Stye: May cause minimal discharge, primarily from the bump itself.


  • Pink Eye: Viral and bacterial forms are highly contagious.
  • Stye: Usually not contagious but caused by bacteria.

Treatment & Prevention

Treatment for Pink Eye

Treatment for Styes

Treatments for styes often include: 

  • Warm compresses applied several times a day to reduce swelling and promote drainage.
  • Maintaining proper eyelid hygiene.
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers can help manage discomfort.
  • Avoid squeezing or popping the stye, as this can worsen the infection.
  • If persistent, antibiotics or a minor surgical procedure might be necessary.

Prevention Tips

The tips to prevent pink eye and styes have more in common than the issues themselves: 

  • Practice good hygiene: Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your eyes.
  • Don’t share personal items like towels, makeup, or eye drops.
  • Clean contact lenses properly and follow the recommended guidelines.
  • Remove makeup before sleeping.

Understanding the Distinctions Between Pink Eye and Styes

While both pink eye and styes can cause discomfort and affect your daily life, understanding their differences is crucial for effective treatment and prevention. If you’re ever unsure about the symptoms you’re experiencing, the healthcare professional you need to consult is your optometrist in order to get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Knowing these distinctions helps you manage your eye health better and ensures you use the right approach to alleviate your symptoms.

Don’t wait until your vision issues become a problem, take proactive steps to ensure your eyes stay healthy and your vision remains sharp. Schedule your eye exam today and experience exceptional care at Whitby Family Eye Care! Your eyes deserve the best, and so do you. 

Visit Our Location in Whitby

Whitby Family Eye Care is at the north east corner of Thickson Rd & Hwy 2, in the KFC plaza. Parking is conveniently located right outside the practice.

Our team of optometrists at Whitby Family Eye Care are proud to offer the following eye care services:

  • Eye Exams
  • Eye Issues and Diseases
  • Laser Eye Surgery Consultation
  • Dry Eye Treatment
  • Emergency Eye Care
  • Contact us today by booking an appointment online or giving us a call, and we will be happy to assist you.


    25 Thickson Rd North
    Whitby, ON, L1N 8W8

    Contact Information

    Phone: (905) 728-7017
    Fax: (905) 728-0865


    If you have an emergency, please visit your nearest emergency department or health care physician.

    Monday: 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
    Tuesday: 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
    Wednesday: 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
    Thursday: 9:00 AM - 6:00 PM
    Friday: 9:00 AM - 2:00 PM
    Saturday: By Appointment Only
    Sunday: Closed
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