Can Pink Eye Be Caused by Stress?

Reviewed on 3/4/2022
Man wearing a face mask and holding his right eye
Stress does not cause pink eye, but one cause of viral conjunctivitis is the herpes virus, which stays dormant in a person's body and can be activated when they experience stress. This can lead to cold sores on the lip, skin rashes, or eye infections such as pink eye.

Pink eye (conjunctivitis) is inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin membrane that lines the inner surface of the eyelids and the whites of the eyes (the sclera). 

The five main types of conjunctivitis include: 

  • Viral
  • Bacterial
  • Allergic
  • Toxic (also called toxic keratoconjunctivitis)
  • Nonspecific, for example:
    • Dry eye
    • Irrigation after a chemical splash
    • Foreign body irritation (e.g., dust, eyelash) 

Stress in itself does not cause pink eye, however, one cause of viral conjunctivitis is the herpes virus, which is a virus that remains dormant within the body in the nervous system. Sometimes if a person experiences stress, the virus becomes activated and causes infection, usually in the form of cold sores on the lip, skin rashes, or eye infections such as pink eye

What Are Symptoms of Pink Eye?

Symptoms of pink eye (conjunctivitis) include: 

  • Eye irritation
  • Eye redness
  • Eye discharge
    • May be white, yellow, or green
    • May be watery or thick
    • May drain throughout the day
    • The affected eye is often crusty and stuck shut in the morning
  • Burning, gritty, or sandy feeling in the eye
  • Cold symptoms may accompany viral conjunctivitis, such as

What Is the Treatment for Pink Eye?

Treatment for pink eye (conjunctivitis) depends on the cause. 

Viral conjunctivitis treatment includes: 

  • Topical antihistamine/decongestant eye drop to relieve eye irritation 
  • Drops are usually available without a prescription 
  • Use warm or cool compresses as needed

Bacterial conjunctivitis treatment includes:

  • Most cases go away on their own even if no treatment is used
  • Antibiotic eye drops or ointment 
  • Contact lens wearers should not wear lenses the first 24 hours of treatment, or until the eye is no longer red

Allergic conjunctivitis treatment includes:

  • Eye drops containing naphazoline-pheniramine, ketotifen, olopatadine, and others

Toxic conjunctivitis treatment includes:

  • Removal of the offending agent
  • Stop using any topical eye medications 
    • Don’t stop taking any prescribed eye medications without first talking to your doctor, especially glaucoma drops, because increased eye pressure may cause permanent vision loss

Nonspecific conjunctivitis treatment includes:

  • Usually goes away on its own within a few days without treatment
  • Lubricant drops or ointments may ease symptoms as the eye heals

Home remedies to relieve symptoms of pink eye include: 

  • Ibuprofen or over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers
  • Lubricating eye drops (artificial tears)
    • Do not use red-eye reducing eye drops, which can irritate eyes and worsen symptoms of pink eye
  • Warm compresses on the eyes
  • Allergy medicine or allergy eye drops for allergic conjunctivitis 

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Reviewed on 3/4/2022
Image Source: iStock Images