Is Your Gym Giving You Pink Eye?

Gyms are a haven for germs and bugs, and this one has an eye on you. Here’s how to avoid contracting highly contagious pink eye.

November 29, 2012

By Guillermo Escalante, DSc, MBA, ATC, CSCS You might be big and strong, able to bench more than 300 pounds for reps and sport a six-pack even in the offseason, but sometimes the toughest dudes can succumb to the smallest of villains. Lurking in every gym are bugs and viruses, oftentimes hidden to the naked eye on benches, dumbbell handles and water fountains, quickly passing from one member to the next, just waiting for an opportunity to infect you. Inadvertently touch your eye, nose or mouth and you become … the next victim. There are any number of flu or virus bugs looking to hitch a ride on your unsuspecting hands, but the one that’ll quite literally bring you to tears is a medical condition known as conjunctivitis (pink eye). And it doesn’t care how big or strong you think you are. Conjunctivitis is a medical condition in which the conjunctiva, the outermost layer of the eye and the inner membrane of the eyelid, becomes inflamed or infected. When the blood vessels in the conjunctiva become inflamed, the blood vessels become more visible and cause the white part of the eyes to appear red or pink. Usually the inflammation is due to a viral or bacterial infection, but occasionally the inflammation is due to an allergic reaction or irritation to the eye. Common symptoms of conjunctivitis include redness in one or both eyes, itchiness in one or both eyes, a grainy feeling in one or both eyes, tearing and/or a discharge in one or both eyes that forms a crust during the night and may prevent your eyes from easily opening in the morning. Wiping Eyes According to Glenn Miya, MD, a family practice physician in Claremont, CA, the best bet to avoid pink eye is prevention strategies. Miya states that gyms are full of microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses that can attack your body and cause an infection such as a cold, flu and/or conjunctivitis. The following precautions can be followed to help prevent infection: avoid touching your face while working out, wipe down equipment before use, use a workout towel to provide a barrier between weight benches and your body and frequent hand washing. Aside from following the precautions, exercise courtesy by staying away from the gym while you’re sick to avoid spreading your infection to fellow gym-goers. If more people follow this rule the likelihood of spreading an infection can be minimized Unfortunately, following these precautions still can’t guarantee you won’t get infected. When using a workout towel, for example, it’s easy to use the same side of the towel that touched the dirty bench to wipe your face in between your sets. Attention to detail by making sure the same side of the towel always touches the bench and the opposite side of the towel is always used for your face is a simple detail that can help avoid the spread of infection. Then again, that means you need to pay attention to which side of the towel is which, and sometimes they look awfully similar. Conjunctivitis is quite an inconvenience to deal with. While it’s typically resolved within a few days, dealing with the problem can mean downtime from your workouts, and because it’s relatively contagious, means limited intimate contact with your loved ones. Taking measures to help prevent getting an infection is always good practice — not just for conjunctivitis but for those other nasty bugs, too. Paying attention to the four points above, especially if you use a workout towel, can help improve your chances of avoiding an infection.

Wipe Your Bench

Types of Conjunctivitis


1) May affect one or both eyes. 2) Viral infections may produce a watery discharge while bacterial infections may produce a thicker, yellowish discharge. 3) May be associated with symptoms of a cold or a respiratory tract infection such as a sore throat. 4) Highly contagious and may be spread with direct or indirect contact with the eye secretions of an infected person. 5) Bacterial infections are usually treated with anti-bacterial eye drops.


1) Affects both eyes. 2) A response to an allergy-causing substance such as pollen. 3) The allergy-causing substance causes your body to release histamine, which can produce a number of allergy signs including pink eye. 4) May experience intense itching, tearing and inflammation of the eyes. 5) Not contagious.


1) May affect one or both eyes. 2) May be from irritation from a chemical splash or a foreign object in the eye. 3) Rubbing or cleaning the eye to get rid of the foreign object may cause redness and inflammation. 4) Symptoms may include watery eyes and a mucous discharge. 5) Not contagious.