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Can You Wear Contacts with Pink Eye?

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“Pink eye,” clinically called conjunctivitis, is a common eye disease that is easily recognizable by the pinkness or redness visible in and around the eyes.  Depending on what type of pink eye you have, it can be highly contagious, making it essential to visit an optometrist to get a proper diagnosis and treatment.

If you think you have pink eye, you should avoid wearing contact lenses.  Since they touch the surface of your eye, they can cause the inflammation to become worse, and even spread the infection further.  The inflamed part of your eye is already feeling sensitive, so you should stick to your glasses until your pink eye has been treated and resolved.

What Is Pink Eye?

There is a thin, transparent layer covering the white part of your eye and the inner surface of your eyelids.  That layer is called the conjunctiva.  It helps protect the eye and helps with mucus and tear production, which keeps your eye lubricated.

This layer, however, can become inflamed when it is exposed to irritants like bacteria, viruses, or allergens.  When this happens, it is called conjunctivitis—more commonly referred to as pink eye.  This name is due to how the inflammation causes the eye and surrounding area to take on a pink-red color.

When you have pink eye, you will often feel like something is in your eye, often causing:

  • Itching or burning sensation in the eye
  • Increased tear production
  • Redness in the whites of the eye
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Thick yellow discharge that crusts over the eyelashes, especially after sleep
  • Blurred vision

Fortunately, pink eye is temporary, and the symptoms recede once you get proper treatment from an eye care professional.

What Causes Pink Eye?

Pink eye can be caused by several different factors.  Most of the time, it is caused by bacteria or a virus entering the eye, eventually leading to inflammation.  Although there are less common types of pink eye, the three primary types are:

  • Viral conjunctivitis
  • Bacterial conjunctivitis
  • Allergic conjunctivitis

Each type has its own specific causes and symptoms.  This makes it essential to visit your optometrist, who will be able to determine what type of pink eye you have and treat it appropriately.

Viral Conjunctivitis

Viral conjunctivitis is typically caused by a virus entering the eye.  This is the form that can be highly contagious and often spreads through contact with infected eye secretions or contaminated surfaces.  While uncomfortable, viral conjunctivitis may go away on its own after one-to-two weeks, but there are more aggressive types that have much longer lasting effects, especially if untreated.

Bacterial Conjunctivitis

Bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria infecting the eye.  This bacteria may come from plenty of sources, ranging anywhere from contaminated surfaces to poor hygiene practices.  (Keep washing your hands!)  This type of pink eye can affect one or both eyes and is also considered highly contagious.

Although this form does not usually harm your vision, unless a resultant ulcer forms in the center of the cornea (the clear front surface of the eye), it can still cause significant irritation and discomfort.  This type of pink eye requires a course of antibiotics to treat the bacteria in curbing the spread of the infection.

Allergic Conjunctivitis

This form of pink eye is caused by your immune system’s reaction to an allergen, or foreign object detected by your body.  Allergic conjunctivitis often causes watery eyes and redness, due to inflammation, and can be treated with eye drops containing antihistamines and mast cell stabilizers.  This type of pink eye, on the other hand, is not contagious.

Can You Wear Contact Lenses with Pink Eye?

If you usually wear contact lenses, there is a bit of bad news.  You should avoid wearing contacts if you are developing symptoms of pink eye.  Since contact lenses directly touch the front of your eye, they often can cause irritation, especially if the eye is already inflamed or irritated.

To make matters worse, contacts can actually spread the infection if your pink eye is bacterial or viral.  So if you are experiencing pink eye, you should think about switching back to glasses until your eyes have fully recovered.

It can help to sterilize and clean your contacts before resuming use, or alternatively switching to 1-day disposable soft contact lenses, just so you know that you have fresh and clean lenses, which will not cause another infection!

Keeping Your Contacts Clean

Keeping your contacts clean is essential for maintaining good eye health.  Since they directly touch your eye, contacts can be a hot zone for passing on infections, especially if you do not clean them very often or sleep with them.

Make sure you:

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before handling your contacts.
  • Use an unexpired solution to clean and store your lenses.
  • Regularly clean the storage case and replace it as recommended.
  • Try not to sleep in your contacts (even if they are designed for overnight wear).

Do not use your contact lenses beyond the recommended wear time period.  Moreover, once they are past the expiration date, they can become exposed to contaminants and other irritants that harm your eyes.  If your contacts are out-of-date, order more from your optometrist or schedule an eye exam to get an updated prescription.  The optometrist will not only assess the proper movement and fit of your contacts, but also your eye health having worn contact lenses.

A woman in an optometry clinic shaking hands with a male optometrist

When to Visit an Optometrist

While minor cases of pink eye may go away on their own, you should still visit an optometrist to avoid developing any complications.  If you have pink eye—or any other eye condition—come visit us at Eye Love Optometry to speak with one of our friendly staff members.  We are here to help, so schedule an appointment with us today!


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  • Written by Park L. Hsieh, O.D.

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