What Is Commonly Misdiagnosed As Pink Eyes? Unveiling The Misdiagnoses


Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, is an inflammation of the conjunctiva. It is caused by infection or certain allergies. This article discusses what is commonly misdiagnosed as pink eye. Pink eyes could be bacterial, viral, or allergic. Depending on the type it has the following symptoms:

  • Redness
  • Irritation of something getting stuck in the eyes
  • Constant itchiness
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Burning sensation in the eyes
  • Watering or sticky discharge
  • Acute or sharp shooting pain
  • Blurry vision 
  • Sensitivity to light

The above symptoms could occur due to several reasons. several conditions often point towards pink eyes but then they are different.

What is commonly misdiagnosed as pink eyes?

Pink eyes are often characterized by eye redness, irritation, pain, and sticky discharge. However, other ailments could also portray the same symptoms.

Commonly Misdiagnosed As Pink Eyes

Eyes are delicate and any discomfort could affect the vision. It is advised that any problem, be it small or big, should not be neglected. Rather an eye specialist should be consulted. 

Some of the common misdiagnoses are as follows:

  1. Hordeolum (stye)- style motley affects the eyelashes but, at times, it does extend to the eyelids. Style causes redness in the eyes, and there is mild itchiness. In severe cases there is pain. It is commonly seen as a red, painful bump that resembles a pimple. The eyelid could swell, causing difficulty in opening the eyes, and there is slight sensitivity to the eyes.
  2. Iritis or uveitis- uveitis is the inner eye inflammation resulting from certain cancers, autoimmune diseases, and infections. Iritis is a type of uveitis which is termed as anterior uveitis. The two ailments differ as uveitis will give floaters if there is inflammation in the back of the eye. The dark spots move over the vision. If the inflammation is in the front part of the eyes, then there is immense sensitivity to the eyes. 
  3. Blepharitis- blepharitis is the inflamed eyelid. The main difference between pink eyes and blepharitis is the swelling of eyelids. Also, in blepharitis, there is dryness in the eyes along with the urge to itch, whereas pink eyes have watering or sticky discharge, and this causes itching. Blepharitis causes foamy tears in the eyes, which does not happen in pink eyes. 
  4. Dry eye- there is a lack of tears in the eyes, known as dry eye. The dry eye symptoms are the same as pink eyes. However, there is no watering in dry eyes. There is an acute sharp shooting sensation or sting in the eyes which is not in pink eyes. Dry eye is a chronic condition, whereas pink eyes come suddenly and are mostly a communicable disease.
  5. Glaucoma- Glaucoma is an optic nerve damage disease. It is a degenerative eye disease damaging the optic nerve. In the initial stage, there are no symptoms, but then, as the disease advances, there are issues with the vision.
    Glaucoma does not cause redness or itchiness like pink eyes and the only cure for glaucoma is surgery, where there is no such surgical treatment for pink eyes. Glaucoma advances and affects both eyes, but pink eyes recover and there are stances where pink eyes could affect only one eye.
  6. Keratitis- keratitis is the inflammation of the cornea in the front of the eyes. The symptoms of Pink eye completely resemble keratitis, with the difference in pain that the two bestow. Keratitis is much more painful than pink eye and also the course of treatment and recovery will take longer duration.
  7. Episcleritis- episcleritis is inflamed episclera, a clear layer on top of the white part of the eye. It is usually in one eye but, in some cases, advances to the other eye also. There is redness and pain in both eye ailments, but vision issues and discharge are completely different.  
  8. Chalazion- chalazion is a bump on the eyelid. Thus, it differs from pink eyes and stye ( bump in the eyelashes). The swelling on the eyelid gets red and tender; thus, there is widespread eyelid swelling that causes blurry vision. 
  9. Allergies- eye redness could also happen due to certain allergies. Dust allergy or pollen could cause eye allergy which causes redness of eyes with extreme itchiness. The eyes could water but then there is no stickiness. In the case of pink eyes, treatment is directly done on the eyes, but in the case of allergies, there is a combination of treatments followed. Eye drops and anti-allergy pills are used to cure.  
  10. Corneal abrasion or other injury- injury to eyes also causes redness, watering of eyes, and pain in eyes. Corneal abrasion is a common eye injury that increases the urge to scratch the eye's cornea. It often results from contact injuries or due to some foreign bodies that enter the eyes, like dust particles or speckles of sand. There is mild to severe pain which subsides as the object is removed. There is a vision change in both pink eyes and corneal abrasion. 
  11. Scleritis-  inflamed sclera is scleritis, the white part of the eye. The ailment affects one eye and has similar symptoms to pink eyes. The difference is that there is thick eye discharge from the eye in scleritis. It is one of the most painful eye ailments as the pain extends from one eye but moves up to the jaw and the rest of the face and head. Pink eye causes pain but then is restricted to the eyes only. 

These conditions are commonly misdiagnosed as pink eyes underscore the significance of precise identification for effective treatment.


The ailments are all related to the eyes but are cured differently. Most eye ailments need cool compress or warm compress. Pink eye gives a burning sensation; thus cool compress eases the pain. Stye and blepharitis require a warm compress to soothe the pain.

However, most ailments will require antibiotic medicines or drops; allergy eye drops, or steroid eye drops are recommended depending on the disease and its cause it. Pink eye requires artificial tears, antibiotic eye drops for bacterial conjunctivitis, or allergy eye drop in case of allergic conjunctivitis. it's crucial to recognize that various conditions are commonly misdiagnosed as pink eyes, emphasizing the importance of precise and thorough eye examinations for proper treatment.

Irrespective of the ailment the basic similarity is that one needs to visit the doctor immediately. If the symptoms do not recover in a few days or if there is an eye infection, visit a doctor immediately. Also, if there is an injury that appears superficial, consulting a doctor is vital. 


  • Smith AF, Waycaster C. Estimate of the direct and indirect annual cost of bacterial conjunctivitis in the United States. BMC Ophthalmol. 2009;9:13. [PMC free article]
  • Leibowitz HM. The red eye. N Engl J Med. 2000;343(5):345–351. [PubMed]

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Dr. David G Kiely is a distinguished Medical Reviewer and former General Medicine Consultant with a wealth of experience in the field. Dr. Kiely's notable career as a General Medicine Consultant highlights his significant contributions to the medical field.

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