Pink Eye vs. Stye

December 22, 2022
Picture of a man holding his glasses and touching his left eye.

Pink eye and styes are very similar—both are types of eye infections—but they affect different parts of the eye and cause different symptoms. Below, PhysicianOne Urgent Care explains how to distinguish between pink eye and a stye and discusses the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for each type of infection.

What Is Pink Eye?

Also known as “conjunctivitis,” pink eye develops when the transparent membrane lining the eyelid and covering the white portion of the eyeball becomes inflamed or infected.

What Causes Pink Eye?

So, how do you get pink eye? This condition has numerous potential causes, including:

  • A bacterial infection
  • A viral infection
  • An allergic reaction
  • Irritation (for example, from a foreign object or a chemical that splashed into the eye)

Infants may also experience the symptoms of pink eye if one of their tear ducts is blocked.

Pink Eye Symptoms

Pink eye can cause the following symptoms to develop in one or both eyes:

  • Redness
  • Itchiness
  • A gritty sensation
  • Tearing
  • Discharge that forms a crust overnight, often preventing the eye from opening the following morning

If you wear contact lenses, you should stop using them as soon as you start to notice any of these symptoms. If your contacts are disposable, you should throw away any lenses that you’ve previously worn; if they’re reusable, you should disinfect them before wearing them again.

How to Treat Pink Eye

Pink eye treatment will depend on what has caused the inflammation/infection, but may involve:

  • Cleaning the eyelid
  • Applying a warm or cool compress
  • Using artificial tears
  • Administering prescription eyedrops

Because pink eye can be contagious, you should take steps to avoid spreading it to others and reinfecting yourself (for example, keeping your hands away from your eyes, throwing away your used eye makeup, and regularly washing your hands, towels, and pillowcases).

What Is a Stye?

A stye (sometimes referred to as a “sty”) develops when one of the oil glands within the eyelid becomes infected.

What Causes a Stye?

Stye infections commonly result from staphylococcus bacteria. Touching the eyes with unwashed hands, using contact lenses that weren’t disinfected beforehand, applying old or expired eye makeup, and leaving eye makeup on overnight can all increase a person’s chances of developing a stye.

Stye Symptoms

The hallmark symptom of a stye is a red lump on the edge of the eyelid—on either the inside or the outside—often resembling a pimple or a boil. Along with this bump, symptoms may include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Tearing

How to Treat a Stye

Styes often resolve on their own within a few days, so treatment is generally aimed at relieving symptoms in the meantime. Stye treatment may involve:

  • Applying a warm compress
  • Gently massaging the eyelid
  • Using antibiotic eyedrops or an antibiotic topical cream

If you use contact lenses or eye makeup, you should stop doing so until your stye is completely healed.

Pink Eye & Stye Treatment Near You

PhysicianOne Urgent Care’s experienced providers skillfully treat a wide range of eye infections—including pink eye and styes—at our numerous locations across Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York. We know how difficult it can be to live with the symptoms of an eye infection, so we remain open 365 days per year during extended hours. Get the care you need today—you can schedule a visit, walk in at the time that’s most convenient for you, or take advantage of our 24/7 telemedicine service.

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Throughout the visit I felt like the staff really cared. The doctor took his time talking with me about my symptoms, and I felt like he listened to all my concerns and took that into consideration when recommending the right treatment. Thank you!
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Hamden, CT
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