Dry eyes and pink eye are easily confused. You will have red, gritty, and watery eyes in both conditions. But this confusion can make your symptoms worse.

In this post, we’ll zoom in on the differences between dry eyes and pink eyes. Understanding these differences will help you address the underlying causes behind these common conditions.

Ready? Let’s start.

What Are Dry Eyes?

Dry eye syndrome is when your eyes don’t produce enough tears. As a result, the surface of your eyes often feels dry and gritty, like there’s sand in them.

Your eyes may become inflamed, sore, and irritated. You may even experience tearing of eyes, light sensitivity, and blurry vision.

Dry eyes can cause redness in the eye, too. But it’s not the result of any virus or bacteria.

What Is Pink Eye?

Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, a thin membrane that lines the white part of your eyes. It can happen in one or both eyes, and it’s caused by a virus, bacteria, or allergen.

Pink eyes can cause redness, swelling, and itchiness in your eye. Sometimes, you may have a sticky discharge, too.

Unlike dry eyes, pink eye is contagious. You can easily get it from hand-to-eye contact with an infected person.

Dry Eyes vs Pink Eye Symptoms

To differentiate between dry eyes and pink eyes, note their symptoms.

You will have red, watery, and itchy eyes with both conditions. But dry eyes may affect your vision, unlike pink eye. Plus, you will not have any pus or mucus discharge.

Take a closer look at these dry eye and pink eye symptoms.

Dry Eye Symptoms

Dry eyes is a condition in which your eyes are not well lubricated. As a result, they are often gritty, itchy, and red.

closeup of old man with red eyes

Some common dry eye symptoms to look out for are:

  • A stinging or burning sensation in the eyes
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Red and watery eyes
  • Gritty feeling in your eyes, as if there is sand in them
  • Difficulty wearing contact lenses
  • Blurred vision or eye fatigue
  • Itchy and irritated eyes

Pink Eye Symptoms

Pink eye is an inflammation of the front white part of your eye. It’s contagious and especially common in children. Here are some common symptoms of pink eye:

  • Redness in the white part of the eye
  • Swelling of the conjunctiva
  • Itchy and irritated eyes
  • Gritty feeling and constant tearing
  • Pus or mucus discharge
  • Crusting of lashes or eyelids, especially in the morning
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Sensitivity to bright light

Dry Eyes vs Pink Eye Causes

The causes of dry eye and pink eye are different, too. Dry eye occurs when there is not enough tear production, or when the tears evaporate quickly.

On the other hand, pink eye is caused by a bacterial or viral infection. Sometimes, an allergic reaction can also trigger the condition.

Take a closer look at the different causes of dry eyes and pink eye.

What Causes Dry Eyes?

Dry eye syndrome has many causes and contributing factors, from excessive screen time to dehydration, overexposure to wind and smoke, and hormonal changes.

Age is also a factor to consider, since people over 50 are at a higher risk of getting dry eyes.

Here are the various causes of dry eyes:

What Causes Pink Eye?

The usual culprits causing pink eyes are viral and bacterial infections, allergic reactions, and chlorine in water, usually in swimming pools where it occurs in a higher concentration than in tap water.

woman with sunglasses resting chin on hands by the side of a swimming pool

Since pink eye is often caused by viruses and bacteria, it can easily spread from person to person.

To sum up the main causes of pink eye:

  • Viruses and bacteria
  • Reaction to irritants like shampoos, smoke, dirt, car fumes, and pool chlorine
  • Eye drops or contact lens reaction/allergy
  • Pollen, animal dander, or dust mite allergy
  • Fungi, amoebas, and parasites

Dry Eyes vs Pink Eye Treatment

Dry eye symptoms can often be relieved with dietary and lifestyle changes. You can also use preservative-free eye drops, blink more to help spread the tear film over the surface of your eyes, and reduce your screen time.

Pink eye symptoms will last for a few days. But you can apply a warm compress or use prescription eye drops or take medication to ease them.

Dry Eyes Treatment

There’s no permanent cure for dry eyes. But many things can help treat the underlying causes. These treatments and lifestyle changes will help maintain moisture in the eyes and reduce dry eye symptoms.

Pink Eye Treatment

Like the common cold, pink eye must run its course. Although it goes away on its own in one to two weeks, your pink eye treatment can focus on symptom relief.

  • Use prescription eye drops, ointments, or pills
  • Wash any discharge from your eyes
  •  Apply a warm or cold compress several times a day
  • Take antihistamines if pink eye is due to an allergy
  • Change your pillowcase daily until the infection goes away
  • Don’t rub or touch your infected eye

What Is Commonly Misdiagnosed as Pink Eye?

Many eye conditions mimic pink eye. Most of these may cause your eyes to turn red, sore, inflamed, and watery, too.

  • Keratitis: An open sore on the cornea (the front part of the eye), causing redness and eye pain.
  • Iritis: Inflammation of the iris (the colored part of the eye) with severe eye pain in bright light.
  • Stye: A small bump on the inner eyelid that causes pink eye-like symptoms.
  • Blepharitis: An inflammation of the eyelid that leads to burning eyelids and blurry vision.

Prevention Is the Best Remedy

Often, you can prevent dry eyes and pink eye by taking good care of your eyes.

For dry eyes, pay close attention to what makes your eye feel sandy and irritated. You can start by avoiding using hairdryers, fans, and air conditioners. You can also wear wraparound sunglasses while stepping outdoors.

Taking eye breaks while working, drinking plenty of water, and using a humidifier are some other ways to prevent dry eyes.

washing hands with soap over white sink

For pink eyes, the best prevention is practicing good hygiene. This will control the spread of bacteria or viruses.

Make sure to wash your hands regularly, avoid touching or rubbing your eyes, and use a clean towel daily. Also, don’t share your eye cosmetics, wetting drops, or face towels.

Another way to help your eyes stay healthy is to take an eye health supplement.

SightC from Sightsage is a plant-based suite of essential nutrients for eye health. Packed with antioxidants and phytonutrients, it can protect your eye cells from damage and help support a healthy tear film.

Find out more about SightC.
March 06, 2023 — Vincent Andrew

Leave a comment

Please note: comments must be approved before they are published.