How to Tell if You Have Pink Eye or Stye: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

How to Tell if You Have Pink Eye or Stye Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Pink eye and stye are the two most common eye infections. Since the symptoms of both the conditions often overlap, it becomes essential to know the difference to get the right treatment. 

Itchy, red and watery eyes are the three common symptoms of these eye conditions, confusing people of what they have got. In this article we will provide detailed information about them and compare pink eye vs. stye to help you understand the major differences between the two.

Keep reading!

Difference Between Pink Eye and Stye

Every ailment develops certain symptoms that help us understand it, and eye infections are no exception. Since both pink eye and stye are two different conditions, a careful observation of some of their unique symptoms can give an idea. 

As the name mentions, in the pink eye, the redness is highly prominent, while in stye a hard lump develops on the surface of the eyelid. 

Symptoms of Pink Eye Vs Stye

PINK EYE (Conjunctivitis)

Pink Eye
  • Redness in the white of eyes 
  • Inflamed eyelids 
  • Pus around the eyes
  • Itching 
  • Blurry vision 


  • Lump on the eyelid
  • Inflamed eyelid
  • Pain around the eyes
  • Pus 
  • Redness 
  • Sensitivity to light

Stye can develop on the inner as well as outer eyelids. External ones are more common, appearing as pimples on the eyelid’s edge whereas internal ones develop on oil gland within the eyelid tissue (1). 

Internal stye is more painful and discomforting as it pushes the eye while growing.

What Causes Pink Eye Vs. Stye?

While the symptoms of both are the same, pink eye and stye have different causal factors.

Pink eye can develop for various reasons, but bacterial and viral infections are the most common causes (2). Some people also develop pink eye due to certain allergens. Basically, any foreign body that can irritate the lining of the eyelid can develop pink eye. 

Below are the major reasons for pink eye-

  • Microbes- bacteria or virus
  • Allergens 
  • Smoke or dust
  • Contact lenses

Stye develops as a result of infection of the oil gland on the eyelids (3). The telltale sign of stye is a red lump on the eyelash follicle. It looks like a pimple or boil. 

Below are the reasons that can cause stye-

  • Not removing the eye makeup while sleeping 
  • Rubbing eyes frequently and aggressively 
  • Wearing disposable contacts for longer 

Below is the table differentiating pink eye and stye under different heads for better understanding-

FeaturePink Eye (Conjunctivitis)Stye (Hordeolum)
DefinitionInflammation or infection of the conjunctivaInfection of the eyelid gland(s)
CauseBacterial or viral infection, allergies, irritantsBacterial infection of eyelid hair follicle
SymptomsRedness, itching, tearing, dischargeRedness, swelling, tenderness, localized bump
ContagiousnessHighly contagious, especially viral formGenerally not contagious, except in rare cases
TreatmentDepends on cause; can include antibiotics, eye drops, antihistaminesWarm compresses, antibiotic ointment, rarely surgery
DurationTypically resolves within a weekUsually resolves within a few days to a week
ComplicationsCan lead to corneal damage if severe or untreatedRarely leads to complications
PreventionFrequent handwashing, avoiding touching eyes, avoiding sharing items like towels or makeupGood eyelid hygiene, avoiding rubbing or touching the eyes

Prevention Pink Eye Vs. Stye

Prevention is the key to avoiding these eye infections. You can prevent them by maintaining good hygiene by following these tips-

  • Frequently washing hands 
  • Removing eye makeup at the end of the day
  • Washing face 
  • Regularly changing bedding 
  • Using washed towels and other products 

Treatment options for Pink Eye Vs. Stye

Since both these eye conditions resolve on their own after a few days or a week, you can take certain home remedies to manage the symptoms.  

For instance, pink eye symptoms can be managed by using cold compress to reduce inflammation and applying artificial tear eye drops. Likewise, maintaining proper hygiene around the eyes also helps. If the condition is getting severe, the doctor may prescribe pain relievers and antibiotics. 

Stye resolves when the infected oil gland clears the blockage that takes around 4 to 5 days. It is advised not to pop the stye but allow it to dry on its own. 

For managing symptoms, you can apply warm compress multiple times in a day. In severe cases, visit a doctor to drain the stye and remove it. Doing it at home may damage the vision, so do not attempt at home. 


Whether you get pink eye aka conjunctivitis or stye, both the conditions can make you feel and look miserable. The pain and swelling that comes with them are additional discomfort. 

While one makes the eyes red and inflamed, the other develops a pimple on the eyelids with pus discharge. It is essential to take an eye infection seriously to prevent risks that are associated such as vision problems.

If the condition is not improving even after a few days, visit a doctor to get the right antibiotics and treatment. If your child has developed it, visit his paediatrician to get the right treatment.  

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