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What Is Most Commonly Misdiagnosed as Pink Eye?

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A close-up of a man with red eyes due to allergies

If you’ve ever experienced the uncomfortable symptoms of pink eye, you know how frustrating it can be. But while pink eye is common, it can be misdiagnosed. Other eye conditions have similar symptoms to pink eye, leading to the wrong diagnosis and treatment. These include allergies, blepharitis, dry eye, scleritis, or uveitis.

Before you attempt to identify the condition yourself, consult your optometrist. With their wealth of experience, information, knowledge, and diagnostic technology, they can provide the proper diagnosis and treatment to relieve your symptoms. 

What Is Pink Eye?

Pink eye, clinically known as conjunctivitis, is a common infection affecting millions worldwide. This condition occurs when the conjunctiva, the thin, transparent membrane covering the whites of the eyes and inner eyelid, becomes inflamed.

The most noticeable symptom of pink eye is the pinkish or reddish colour of the eye, but it can also cause:

  • A gritty feeling
  • Excessive tearing
  • Discharge
  • Itchiness

Fortunately, pink eye is often not a serious condition and can be easily treated with proper care and medication.

What Else Could Pink Eye Symptoms Be?

The symptoms of conjunctivitis overlap with several other eye conditions, making identifying the problem more challenging. Some eye conditions with shared symptoms are more common than others.


The most commonly misdiagnosed eye condition is allergies, sometimes called allergic conjunctivitis. Patients with red, itchy, or swollen eyes frequently assume that they’ve contracted pink eye when they just have allergies. This confusion can lead to ineffective treatments and prolonged discomfort.

Allergies can cause various symptoms, including:

  • Tearing
  • Sensitivity to light
  • A gritty or burning sensation
  • Swollen, puffy eyelids
  • Redness

If you notice these symptoms, don’t assume it’s pink eye. A visit to your optometrist can help correctly identify and treat your condition.


Blepharitis affects the eyelids, causing inflammation and resulting in symptoms like:

Blepharitis is often mistaken for pink eye because of these similar symptoms, but the treatments are very different. Your optometrist can examine your eyes to determine if you’re suffering from blepharitis and, if so, prescribe an appropriate treatment.

A woman  in a white blouse is scratching her red irritated dry eyes

Dry Eye Syndrome

Dry eye syndrome is also often confused with pink eye. Patients with dry eyes may experience:

  • Redness
  • Blurry vision
  • Light sensitivity
  • Burning and stinging eyes
  • Overwatering of the eyes
  • Mucus discharge

Unlike pink eye, however, dry eyes are chronic and caused by poor-quality tears or a lack of tears. Treatment for dry eyes include:

Your optometrist can help determine the best course of action for you.


Scleritis affects the tough outer layer of the eye called the sclera, causing symptoms like:

  • Redness
  • Excessive tearing
  • Blurry vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Pain during eye movement

It can be easy to assume these symptoms are just another case of pink eye, but scleritis requires prompt treatment to prevent vision loss. Your optometrist can effectively determine what’s causing your eye inflammation.


Many people mistake uveitis for pink eye due to their similar symptoms. Uveitis is a condition that affects the middle layer of the eye called the uvea, where it swells, causing inflammation and discomfort.

Symptoms of uveitis can include:

  • Redness in the eye
  • Pain
  • Floaters
  • Light sensitivity
  • Blurry vision

The key difference between uveitis and pink eye is that uveitis affects the internal structures of the eye, while pink eye involves the conjunctiva.


Conjunctivitis is, of course, a very real condition that you shouldn’t ignore. However, not all eye symptoms are caused by pink eye, and proper diagnosis is key.

This common condition often results from bacterial or viral infections. It is highly contagious, often resulting in pink or red eyes with discharge. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, see your optometrist immediately for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Get the Right Diagnosis & Treatment

If you’re experiencing uncomfortable and irritating eye symptoms, don’t jump to conclusions. Self-diagnosing is never a good idea, as incorrect treatment can cause prolonged discomfort and further problems. Alberta Health Care covers emergency eye exams, so you don’t have to put off finding the care you need. Schedule a visit with the optometrists at Bonavista Eyecare, Olds Eyecare, Carstairs Eyecare or Sundre Eyecare for diagnosis and treatment. It’s the first step to promote a quick and effective recovery.

Written by Dr. Tanya Sitter

More Articles By Dr. Tanya Sitter

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