How to tell if your pink eye is viral or bacterial

Published on
January 26, 2023

It is estimated that pink eye is one of the most common eye conditions in the United States, with an estimated 6 million cases occurring annually. It can affect people of all ages and bacterial or viral pink eye is highly contagious, especially in children.

What is pink eye?

Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the clear tissue that lines the white part of the eye and the inner surface of the eyelid. The three main causes of pink eye are; viral infection, bacterial infection, or an allergic reaction. In addition to these main causes there are many other conditions that can cause our eyes to be red, painful, or inflamed, which is why it is always best to visit our optometrist for an eye exam in order to properly diagnose your symptoms.  Knowing the cause of pink eye is important for proper treatment and preventing the spread of infection.

How do I know if my pink eye is viral or bacterial?

Symptoms of viral and bacterial pink eye are similar and can include redness, itching, burning, watering, and discharge from the eye. However, there are some differences that can help differentiate between the two types of pink eye:

  • Viral pink eye often starts in one eye and spreads to the other, and is often accompanied by a cold or other respiratory infection. The discharge is usually watery and clear.
  • Bacterial pink eye usually affects both eyes at the same time, and the discharge is thicker and can be yellow or green.

It's important to note that these symptoms can also be caused by other factors such as allergies or irritants, dry eye, eye diseases such as glaucoma, scratched eyes, blepharitis, and many other conditions. If you're experiencing symptoms of pink eye, it's best to see our eye doctor in Olympia for an eye exam.

How can I get diagnosed and treated for pink eye?

If you suspect you have pink eye, it is best to see our eye doctor near you for an examination. They can diagnose pink eye and determine the cause. They may also perform a culture or other tests to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment for viral pink eye typically involves self-care measures such as using over-the-counter lubricating drops and avoiding touching or rubbing the eyes. Antibiotics are not effective against viral infections, and the condition usually clears up on its own within 7 to 14 days. 

Bacterial pink eye, on the other hand, is treated with antibiotics, which can be prescribed in the form of eye drops or ointment. It's important to complete the full course of antibiotics as prescribed by our optometrist.

Since there are so many potential causes of pink eye, we recommend seeing our eye doctor to diagnose the cause of your symptoms in order to start the correct treatment and prevent potential complications. 

When should I seek medical attention for pink eye?

If you're experiencing any symptoms of pink eye, it's recommended to seek medical attention. In the event that you are experiencing severe symptoms such as vision loss, severe pain, or have a history of eye disease, call our office right away to schedule an emergency eye exam at (360) 491-2121. One way to find a trusted optometrist is to search for "eye doctor near me", “emergency eye exam near me”, or "eye exam near me". If you live in Olympia, consider visiting our optometry clinic for an examination. To schedule an appointment, you can call us at (360) 491-2121. Patients with pink eye visit our clinic from all over Washington, and we are proud to be a leading provider of medical eye care for patients from Olympia, Lakewood, Tacoma, and Lacey.


Such a nice optician. My grandson is only 4 and needs glasses. We were so sad, but he explained the issues, and we will follow up as he suggested.

Anna P.

I had such a good experience with the clinic. Very friendly staff and doctor, did not have to wait for long to be called, and was treated respectfully. Thanks, American Family.

June S.

Dr. Zurcher has gone above and beyond what any other eye doctor has ever done to figure out what is going on with my eyes. Very happy with American Family Vision.

Christine R.

Family Vision Clinic changed our lives! My daughter was frequently car sick, and she was getting headaches every day, often painful enough that they brought her to tears. We saw a string of doctors and therapists, but we made no progress. Finally, we found Dr. Levi Zurcher and his eye therapist Rain. After ten weeks of eye therapy my daughter no longer gets headaches, and she no longer gets car sick. Daily tears are a thing of the past. I really can’t say enough about this clinic. It was fascinating to watch Dr. Zurcher work. For the first time, someone who knew what they were doing was intently studying my daughter, really trying to figure out all of her eye issues, and his therapist Rain is one of the most patient and lovely people that I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet. We’re finished with eye therapy—yay!—and I have switched to American Family Vision Clinic for all of my family’s other eye health needs.

Lars Wulff

Very professional, yet kind and helpful. They do what they can to make the appointment comfortable. I was running a bit late, I made sure ti call. They were able to switch me with a patient who was already there, they treated me with respect, and helped my son have confidence by getting him the eye care he needed that day. Thank you so much! Would recommend to anyone. It's a blessing that they care enough to work with people who have all different types of insurance from work to state coverage.

Justin E.

The staff is friendly. The Doc is very knowledgeable. The office is family friendly and everyone is so patient with the little ones.

Amy Fagerness
1 2 3



Discover effective treatment options for diabetic retinopathy; consult our eye care professionals to protect your vision and overall well-being

Treating diabetic retinopathy Treating diabetic retinopathy is a critical aspect of preserving vision and maintaining the overall quality of life […]

Read More
Carrots for eyes

Are Carrots Good for Your Eyes?

As an optometrist at American Family Vision Clinic in Olympia, one of the most common questions Dr. Levi Zurcher often […]

Read More

Understanding Foggy vision

Is foggy vision troubling you? Let our experienced optometrist restore your sight – book an appointment today and see the […]

Read More
see all blogs

Contact Us To Amplify Your EyeCare

American Family Vision Clinic Logo

Working Hours




400 Yauger Way SW. Bldg 1, Ste A Olympia, WA 98502
(360) 459-1097
Website Accessibility Policy
Safety protocols page
privacy policy
For Patients
Call Us
eyefile-adduserphone-handsetcalendar-fullarrow-uparrow-right linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram