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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What Is Commonly Misdiagnosed as Pink Eye?

A young man with red eyes holding tissues and rubbing his eye in pain

Pink eye is a common term often used to describe visible redness, swelling, and irritation of the eyes. But there are many eye conditions that cause these signs and symptoms. Many eye conditions other than infection with viruses or bacteria can irritate the eyes, leading to the need for professional diagnosis and treatment from your optometrist.

Eye conditions that cause the same symptoms as pink eye can include:

  • Dry eye
  • Blepharitis
  • Allergy
  • Chalazion
  • Corneal Abrasion or Foreign Body
  • Contact Lens Overwear
  • Ocular Rosacea
  • Anterior Uveitis
  • Corneal Ulcer
  • …and more!

What Is Pink Eye?

Pink eye is a generic term often used to describe conjunctivitis, when the conjunctiva becomes inflamed. This is the thin, clear tissue covering the whites of the eyes and the inside of the eyelids. The conjunctiva is an extremely sensitive part of the eye, so when it becomes inflamed, it can lead to swelling, redness, irritation and more.

There are three primary types of conjunctivitis: viral, bacterial, and allergic.

Viral Conjunctivitis

Viral pink eye is caused by a viral infection affecting the conjunctiva. It’s extremely contagious and easily transmitted through contact with an infected person or a contaminated surface.

There’s good news, though. Typically, viral pink eye resolves within a week or so without treatment, but can persist. If symptoms persist, your optometrist can provide treatment..

Bacterial Conjunctivitis

Bacterial pink eye is also caused by an infection. When bacteria cause the infection the result can be the same redness and swelling as viral conjunctivitis but there may also be a yellow-green discharge from the eyes.

This type of pink eye usually doesn’t go away on its own. Instead, you’ll need to visit your optometrist. They can prescribe antibiotics—usually as eye drops or an ointment, —to help resolve the bacterial infection.

Allergic Conjunctivitis

When your body has an allergic reaction, a lot of your body’s systems go into overdrive , and one of the consequences can be itchy, watery, red eyes.

When exposed to an allergen, the conjunctiva can become irritated and inflamed.  Fortunately, allergic conjunctivitis can often be treated by a combination of avoiding allergens in the first place, taking over-the-counter oral medication to relieve symptoms or using prescription eye drops from your optometrist

Common Signs & Symptoms

Pink eye often causes the visible pink-redness that helped this condition earn its name. But this isn’t the only symptom. It also often causes:

  • Itchiness
  • Irritation and discomfort
  • Discharge from the eyes
  • Crusting or swelling around the eyelids
  • Blurry vision
  • Light sensitivity

These symptoms can vary depending on how severe your condition is. Even if you aren’t diagnosed with pink eye, these are all signs of inflammation in the eye.

Can Other Conditions Look Like Pink Eye?

Pink eye is extremely common, though the exact number of cases is unknown. But while it’s a common diagnosis, it isn’t the only condition that causes the trademark visible redness. Several other conditions can cause eye inflammation and similar symptoms, which is why it’s so important to get a proper diagnosis from your optometrist if you think you have pink eye.

Dry Eye

Dry eye occurs when your eyes do not produce enough tears or when the tears evaporate too quickly. It causes a gritty, burning sensation in the eyes and can often cause visible redness and light sensitivity.

Fortunately, dry eye symptoms can be managed through dry eye therapy with your optometrist.


Blepharitis is an inflammation of the eyelids, usually caused by an overgrowth of bacteria or problems with the oil glands in the eyelids. It also causes redness, swelling, and stinging sensations. Because of this, it’s often mistaken for pink eye.

Hay Fever

Hay fever, more clinically known as allergic rhinitis, often affects the eyes. It’s caused by an allergic reaction to pollen, dust, or other allergens in the air. This can lead to itchy and watery eyes, redness, and swelling.

However, it also often causes an itchy throat, congestion, and a runny nose. If you notice these symptoms along with the visible redness, you may not have pink eye—it could be hay fever.

Eye Trauma

In some cases, eye damage or trauma can mimic the symptoms of pink eye. Foreign objects, scratches, or other injuries to the eye can lead to redness, irritation, and watering. It’s important to seek immediate medical attention if you think you may have eye trauma.

How to Treat Conditions Like Pink Eye

With conditions like pink eye, it helps to be preventative instead of reactive. Since it’s caused by an infection affecting the eye, proper eye hygiene is an essential piece of the puzzle.

It can be helpful to:

  • Wash your hands before and after touching your eyes
  • Regularly clean your contact lenses (if applicable)
  • Avoid touching your eyes and face 
  • Wear protective eyewear in situations where your eyes are vulnerable to contaminants, chemicals, or bacteria

But if you’re already experiencing symptoms, it’s crucial to consult with an optometrist. They have the skill and equipment  be able to properly examine your eyes to determine what’s causing your symptoms and whether or not you have pink eye or another eye condition. Then, they’ll be able to recommend appropriate treatment.

A man in an optometry clinic shaking hands with his female optometrist

When to Visit an Optometrist

If you believe you may have pink eye or are noticing any other eye or vision problems, contact our Whitby Family Eye Care team. Our Doctors will  perform a comprehensive eye exam, check your vision, and determine what’s causing your symptoms. You don’t have to suffer with the symptoms of pink eye, so request an appointment with our team today to find relief!

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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