Pink Eye During Pregnancy

Julie Kirk
Co-author Jodee Redmond
Antibiotic eye drops for pink eye

If you're pregnant and happen to contract pink eye (conjunctivitis), be reassured that it's not serious. However, it is highly contagious and should be treated promptly.

What Is Pink Eye

Pink eye is an inflammation or irritation of the conjunctiva, which is the thin, clear membrane that lines the eyelid and covers the white outer layer of the eyeball (sclera). The inflammation from pink eye causes the small blood vessels in the conjunctiva to become more apparent causing your eye to have a reddish or pink appearance. Pink eye can be caused by a viral or bacterial infection, an allergic reaction (such as pet dander), or a reaction to irritants (such as chlorine).

Symptoms of Pink Eye

If you have concerns about pink eye and pregnancy, you should know the symptoms first. Some common symptoms of pink eye are:

  • Redness in one or both of your eyes
  • Eye irritation or pain
  • Itching or burning sensation
  • Swelling of the affected eyelid
  • Tearing of your eye(s)
  • Sensitivity to bright light
  • Feels like you have something in your eye(s) or a gritty feeling in your eye(s)
  • A discharge that forms a thick crust while sleeping and may prevent your eye(s) from opening in the morning

Causes of Pink Eye

There are a number of various causes of pink eye. However, it may be difficult to distinguish which cause is attributed to your particular case of pink eye since symptoms of the various causes tend to be similar. These causes include the following.

Viral Pink Eye

The most common cause of pink eye is by a virus. Examples of these viruses include adenovirus and herpes virus. Viral pink eye is very contagious and may accompany a cold, an upper respiratory infection, or a sore throat. An infected person can spread pink eye by direct or indirect contact. The discharge tends to be clear and watery, and the infection will typically start in one eye and spread to the other. Antibiotics and eye drops will not work effectively on viral pink eye. The symptoms will eventually subside and go away on their own.

Bacterial Pink Eye

Another common cause of pink eye is by bacterial infection. Examples of these bacteria are Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pneumonia. Bacterial pink eye is also very contagious and can be spread by direct or indirect contact. Bacterial pink eye can accompany a cold, upper respiratory infection, sore throat, sinus, or ear infection. The discharge produced is thick and may form a crust while sleeping, which will cause your eyelids to stick together in the morning. A warm washcloth will clean and loosen the crusty discharge to help open the eyes. Antibiotic eye drops or ointment are typically prescribed to help resolve the infection and prevent the spread of pink eye to others.

Allergic Pink Eye

Allergic pink eye is fairly common and is caused by allergens such as animal dander, pollen, and dust mites. It is not contagious and usually affects both eyes. Symptoms of allergic pink eye include, eye inflammation, and itchy, watery eyes. Avoiding or eliminating contact with the allergen is the best way to get relief. However, allergy medications and eye drops that contain antihistamines will help as well.

Pink Eye Caused by Irritants

This type of pink eye is caused by an eye irritation from a foreign body in the eye or contact with smoke, perfume, cosmetics, chemicals, or fumes. Even contact lenses and contact lens solution can be considered an irritant. It is not contagious and usually occurs in both eyes. You may need to remove the foreign body, flush your eyes, use artificial tears, or try cool compresses for relief.

Pink Eye Caused by an STD

Pink eye in newborns can be caused by STDs including gonorrhea and chlamydia. If the STDs are left untreated, your baby may be exposed as they pass through the vaginal canal during delivery. If you suspect you may have a sexually transmitted disease, you will need to be tested and treated (if necessary) prior to your baby's birth.

Treating Pink Eye During Pregnancy

If you are experiencing symptoms of pink eye during pregnancy, you need to be evaluated by a physician. He or she will be able to determine what type of pink eye you have contracted and prescribe antibiotics, if necessary.

Woman applying eyedrops

Antibiotics and Pregnancy

There are some antibiotics that are considered safe to use during pregnancy, while others have been determined to have an adverse effect on the fetus. There are still other medications used during pregnancy that are considered a "grey zone" since experts simply don't know enough to determine how its use may affect a growing baby.

The benefits of taking any medications during pregnancy must outweigh the risks when using them to treat an illness or a condition. Since bacterial pink eye can lead to more serious infections, your doctor will most likely decide that a course of antibiotics is warranted.

Preventing Pink Eye

If you contract pink eye, it is important to take every precaution in order not to spread this highly contagious infection. Ways to prevent pink eye include the following.

  • Wash your hands often with warm, soapy water.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if a sink and soap aren't available.
  • Avoid touching or rubbing your eyes.
  • If you have conjunctivitis, clean any discharge from around the eyes often.
  • Do not share eye drops.
  • Do not share cosmetics.
  • Use your own separate washcloth and towel when washing your face.
  • Avoid sharing towels, blankets, and pillowcases.
  • Clean your eyeglasses often.
  • Clean, store, and replace your contact lenses appropriately.
  • Toss any tissues or cotton balls immediately when used for pink eye care.

Pink Eye May Be Hard to Avoid

If you contract pink eye when you're pregnant, be reassured that while it may be uncomfortable and somewhat painful, it is not serious. It is quite common and may actually be hard to avoid, especially if you already have young children at home who may have contracted it and unknowingly spread the infection to you. If that does happen, it is always best to pay a visit to your doctor.

Pink Eye During Pregnancy