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The Great Misconceptions About Pink Eye

Have you ever had pink eye? If so, you might have assumed it was from feces coming into contact with your eye (yuck). Or worse yet, people around you also might share this misconception. Well, this article is here to set the record straight. Yes, you can get this eye condition from bacteria found in feces, but this is not the only cause and is usually not the main reason why many develop pink eye. Read on to learn what exactly is pink eye!

Common Causes of Pink Eye (Red Eye)

Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, occurs when the lining of the eye and the eyelid becomes irritated, causing redness and swelling. The term ‘pink eye’ itself may be misleading as the eye does not actually appear pink. Instead, the eye will appear bloodshot, irritated, and may even produce a discharge.

There are many reasons conjunctivitis might occur:

  • Viral or bacterial infections
  • Allergies
  • Eye dryness

It is important to be aware that viral conjunctivitis can quickly spread to people around you if proper precautions are not taken. Frequent handwashing steps should be taken, and the infected person should refrain from sharing personal effects, like face cloths, which may come into contact with other people’s eyes.

Common Treatments for Red Eye In Victoria, BC

Viral pink eye generally clears on its own without medical intervention. Dr. Sharma recommends applying a cold, wet washcloth to the affected eye(s) several times a day for relief.

A bacterial red eye may be treated with antibiotic drops.

An allergic red eye can be treated with specific allergy medication. However, if allergies are the root cause of pink eye, allergy medication will still help to soothe the affected eye(s) instead of actually treating the eye condition.

Pink eye due to dry eyes can be treated with artificial tears. There is a wide assortment of drops available to patients suffering from dry eyes. An optometrist should really be consulted in order to obtain the most appropriate drop.

The type of red eye treatment depends on identifying the underlying cause. Anytime patients experience conjunctivitis, it is important they seek the professional opinion of a doctor of optometry so that proper treatment can be prescribed. This means if you think you might have pink eye the best thing to do is get your eye(s) examined.

Think you may have conjunctivitis? Book an appointment with Dr. Sharma by giving us a call or easily booking online!

We are Victoria, BC’s family eyecare centre.

How Can You Get Pink Eye?

Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis or “pinkeye”, can be very scary when you first experience it. You will likely feel itchy and uncomfortable, eyes look crusty and red, and be generally, well, blah.

Your conjunctiva (the white part surrounding your pupils) turns blood red or entirely pink—hence the name. But despite temporarily looking like a vampire, you shouldn’t worry too much. It tends to go away after a week or so.

What else should you know to get the pink eye relief and information you’re searching for? Read on!

How contagious is pink eye?

We see many social media comments from teens and preteens asking, “How do u get pink eye?” The answer: Pink eye is easy to catch—very easy, in fact. Coughing, sneezing, or touching can spread the infection, and it can take off like wildfire in the right conditions.

So is pink eye contagious? Absolutely!

It is very common among school age kids and extremely contagious, which means that you should avoid contact with others as much as possible for the first couple of days after contracting the infection. Covering your mouth and repeatedly washing your hands with hot, soapy water can help limit it from spreading.

If you or your child has pink eye, try to limit contact with others as much as possible. That means no school or work for the first 36 – 48 hours after contracting it, which is generally the bacterial pink eye contagious period.

Consult your physician for more information—especially if the condition persists for more than five days.

What is pink eye?

For a more precise answer, pink eye is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the clear membrane that covers our eyes.

Pink eye can stem from either a bacterial or viral infection. Telling the difference between the two isn’t always obvious. Bacterial pink eye usually has more crusting form overnight. This will be from an eye discharge. Viral pink eye tends to stay in one eye, while the bacterial form usually spreads to both eyes.

You can treat the bacterial form of pink eye with antibiotics. The viral form usually just needs to run its course. But again, if you don’t see an improvement after five days, see your doctor.

Treatments for pink eye

As we said, pink eye usually goes away on its own after a few days. To help usher the bacterial form out the door and get rid of pink eye faster, there are over-the-counter antibiotic drops for pink eye that are available at most department or drug stores.

For natural remedies for pink eye at home, try warm compresses over the eyes. These can help provide some relief, as can rest and relaxation. Try to avoid TV and definitely don’t share washcloths with your compresses. This can spread the infection to others—and fast.

As you can imagine, an entire family showing the signs and symptoms of pink eye is not fun at all. As soon as you detect an infection, follow the general steps we listed, visit your family doctor if the condition persists, and you should be on the road to recovery with this annoying, but mostly harmless eye disease.

Nothing in this article is to be construed as medical advice, nor is it intended to replace the recommendations of a medical professional. For specific questions, please see your eye care practitioner.

Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, develops when the blood vessels in the transparent membrane, or conjunctiva, that line the eyelid and the white part of the eyeball get inflamed. The inflammation causes blood vessels to become more visible and gives the whites of the eyes a distinct pink or red tint, which is where the condition gets its name.


Pink eye is one of the most common ailments to affect both children and adults, according to the National Eye Institute (NEI). There are four main factors that can cause pink eye: an allergic reaction, a foreign substance in the eye, a viral infection or a bacterial infection.

When it is caused by a bacterial or viral infection, pink eye can be very contagious.

“It is spread when a person touches his or her own eye and then touches the eye of another person; or it is spread to the individual by touching the infection in one’s own nose or sinus,” said Dr. Jill Swartz, practicing physician at GoHealth Urgent Care.

Viral conjunctivitis is the most common form of pink eye and it is most commonly caused by a cold virus, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. It can also be caused by the herpes simplex virus.

Bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by a bacterial infection of the eye. This bacteria is sometimes the same that causes strep throat.

On the other hand, allergic and foreign-substance-caused conjunctivitis aren’t contagious. Allergic conjunctivitis is caused by allergens such as pollen, pet dander, dust mites or mold. On the other hand, irritant-caused pink eye can result from a foreign object in the eye, contact with chemicals, fumes, cosmetics or from wearing contact lenses for too long or without cleaning them properly.

Newborns can also get a form of pink eye known as “neonatal conjunctivitis,” from an infection, irritation or blocked tear duct, according to the NEI.


Symptoms can occur in one or both eyes, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Pink eye is usually very easy to detect. When the membrane becomes inflamed, it produces mucus and tears to protect the eye.

“It usually starts in a single eye with goopy, thick crusted discharge — you wake up and the eye feels sealed like glue,” said Cindy Weston, an assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing.

The other most obvious symptom is reddened whites of the eye. Inflammation or swelling from pink eye makes blood vessels more visible, causing the redness.

Pink eye can also cause itchy and watery eyes, a grainy feeling in the eye, swelling of the eyelids, cloudy vision, a burning sensation and light sensitivity. Sometimes the lymph node in front of the ear can enlarge or become tender or contact lenses may not stay in place or feel uncomfortable because of bumps that may form under the eyelids, according to the NEI.

The symptoms can vary depending on the cause. Viral conjunctivitis usually comes on quickly and can be associated with “cold” pink-eye-symptoms like runny nose, cough, sore throat, fever, congestion, said Weston.

Bacterial conjunctivitis is often marked by thick, yellow-green discharge and can also exhibit cold-like symptoms. It can also sometimes accompany an ear infection, according to the NEI.

Allergic conjunctivitis usually affects both eyes. The eyes will often feel watery, itchy and scratchy. The discharge is clear and may be accompanied by other allergy symptoms including itchy nose, sneezing and clear nasal drainage.


Pink eye can often be treated at home, according to the NEI. But you should see a doctor if you have moderate to severe pain in the eye, vision problems that don’t improve when the discharge is wiped from the eyes and extreme redness in the eyes. If you have a weakened immune system or think you have viral pink eye and the symptoms worsen or don’t get any better with time, it’s also important to see a doctor, according to the NEI.

Newborns with symptoms of conjunctivitis should see a healthcare provider right away, according to the CDC.

Virus conjunctivitis infections are typically mild and will resolve on its own within a week or two, according to the NEI. Mild bacteria-caused pink eye most often also resolves on its own, but antibiotic ointments or eye drops can hasten the process.

For allergic and irritant-caused pink eye, the inflammation will go away on its own once the allergen or irritant is eliminated or greatly reduced.

There are several at-home treatments that can provide some relief. Swartz suggested that it’s best to wipe away the discharge with a warm cloth several times a day.

A cold compress can also be used to sooth allergic conjunctivitis and a warm compress can be used to sooth viral or bacterial pink eye. Eye drops may also help alleviate dryness and help with swelling. Allergic conjunctivitis can be treated with an over-the-counter antihistamine.

Contact lens wearers with pink eye should stop wearing their contact lenses until their eyes heal. They should also throw away any used contacts.

Pink eye is usually contagious until the tearing, discharge and matting of the eyes goes away. This can last up to two weeks.


Pink eye can be highly contagious, especially in children, so it is important to take steps to prevent infection. Dr. John Soud, owner and co-founder of Velocity Care Urgent Treatment Centers, provided these tips for preventing the spread of pink eye:

  • Never touch your eyes or the area around your eyes without washing your hands first.
  • Be sure to discard old cosmetics and anything that comes in contact with your eyes during an infection.
  • Never share makeup products.

Weston added that surfaces should be wiped down with disinfectant, and towels should be laundered after use to help prevent the spread of infection.

Additional resources

  • National Library of Medicine: Pink Eye
  • CDC: Pink Eye — Usually Mild and Easy to Treat
  • National Eye Institute

This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to offer medical advice. This article was updated on Oct. 9, 2018, by Live Science Staff Writer, Yasemin Saplakoglu.

Anatomy of the Eye

Click Image to Enlarge Click Image to Enlarge

Anterior chamber. The front section of the eye’s interior where aqueous humor flows in and out, providing nourishment to the eye.

Aqueous humor. The clear watery fluid in the front of the eyeball.

Blood vessels. Tubes (arteries and veins) that carry blood to and from the eye.

Caruncle. A small, red portion of the corner of the eye that contains modified sebaceous and sweat glands.

Choroid. The thin, blood-rich membrane that lies between the retina and the sclera and is responsible for supplying blood to the outer portion of the retina.

Ciliary body. The part of the eye that produces aqueous humor.

Cornea. The clear, dome-shaped surface that covers the front of the eye.

Iris. The colored part of the eye. The iris is partly responsible for regulating the amount of light permitted to enter the eye.

Lens (also called crystalline lens). The transparent structure inside the eye that focuses light rays onto the retina.

Lower eyelid. Skin that covers the lower part of the eyeball, including the cornea, when closed.

Macula. The central portion of the retina that allows us to see fine details.

Optic nerve. A bundle of nerve fibers that connect the retina with the brain. The optic nerve carries signals of light, dark, and colors to a part of the brain called the visual cortex, which assembles the signals into images and produces vision.

Posterior chamber. The back part of the eye’s interior.

Pupil. The opening in the middle of the iris through which light passes to the back of the eye.

Retina. The light-sensitive nerve layer that lines the inside of the back of the eye. The retina senses light and creates impulses that are sent through the optic nerve to the brain.

Sclera. The white visible portion of the eyeball. The muscles that move the eyeball are attached to the sclera.

Suspensory ligament of lens. A series of fibers that connects the ciliary body of the eye with the lens, holding it in place.

Upper eyelid. Skin that covers the upper part of the eyeball, including the cornea, when closed.

Vitreous body. A clear, jelly-like substance that fills the back part of the eye.

Pink Eye: Usually Mild and Easy to Treat

Pink Eye is Common

Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is one of the most common and treatable eye conditions in the world. It can affect both children and adults. It is an inflammation of the thin, clear tissue that lines the inside of the eyelid (conjunctiva) and the white part of the eyeball. This inflammation makes blood vessels more visible and gives the eye a pink or reddish color.

Pink Eye Symptoms

The symptoms may vary, but usually include:

  • Redness or swelling of the white of the eye or inside the eyelids
  • Increased amount of tears
  • Eye discharge which may be clear, yellow, white, or green
  • Itchy, irritated, and/or burning eyes
  • Gritty feeling in the eye
  • Crusting of the eyelids or lashes
  • Contact lenses that feel uncomfortable and/or do not stay in place on the eye

There are Four Main Causes of Pink Eye

There are four main causes of pink eye:

  • Viruses
  • Bacteria
  • Allergens (like pet dander or dust mites)
  • Irritants (like smog or swimming pool chlorine) that infect or irritate the eye and eyelid lining

It can be difficult to determine the exact cause of pink eye because some signs and symptoms may be the same no matter the cause.

Wash your hands and help children was their hand to help keep pink eye from spreading.

Take Steps to Stop Pink Eye from Spreading

When pink eye is caused by a virus or bacteria, it is very contagious. It can spread easily and quickly from person to person. Pink eye caused by allergens or irritants is not contagious. Follow these simple self-care steps to reduce the risk of getting or spreading pink eye:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds
  • Avoid touching or rubbing your eyes
  • Avoid sharing makeup, contact lenses and containers, and eyeglasses

See conjunctivitis prevention for more information.

Some People with Pink Eye Need to See a Doctor

There are times when it is important to see a healthcare provider for specific treatment and/or follow-up. You should see a healthcare provider if you have pink eye along with any of the following:

  • Moderate to severe pain in your eye(s)
  • Sensitivity to light or blurred vision
  • Intense redness in the eye(s)
  • A weakened immune system, for example from HIV or cancer treatment
  • Symptoms that get worse or don’t improve, including bacterial pink eye that does not improve after 24 hours of antibiotic use
  • Pre-existing eye conditions that may put you at risk for complications or severe infection
  • An infant or newborn with symptoms of pink eye should see a healthcare provider immediately

See conjunctivitis treatment for more information.

A newborn with pink eye will have the same symptoms as other people, but should always see a doctor.

Newborns with Pink Eye Always Need to See a Doctor

Pink eye in newborns can be caused by an infection, irritation, or a blocked tear duct. A newborn baby who has symptoms of pink eye in the first two weeks after birth should see a healthcare provider.

Newborn pink eye caused by sexually transmitted infections, like gonorrhea or chlamydia, can be very serious. Visit your healthcare provider for testing and treatment if you are pregnant and think you may have a sexually transmitted infection. If you don’t know whether you have a sexually transmitted infection but have recently given birth and your newborn shows signs of pink eye, visit your child’s healthcare provider right away.

Most hospitals are required by state law to put drops or ointment in a newborn’s eyes to prevent pink eye. For more information, see conjunctivitis in newborns.

Conjunctivitis Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments


By Gary Heiting, OD

Common Conjunctivitis Symptoms

The primary symptom of pink eye is an eye that has a pink appearance. Other symptoms of pink eye depend on the type of conjunctivitis:

  • Viral conjunctivitis symptoms include watery, itchy eyes or sensitivity to light. One or both eyes can be affected. Viral conjunctivitis is highly contagious and can be spread by coughing and sneezing.
  • Bacterial conjunctivitis symptoms include a sticky, yellow or greenish-yellow eye discharge in the corner of the eye. In some cases, this discharge can be severe enough to cause the eyelids to be stuck together when you wake up. One or both eyes can be affected. Bacterial conjunctivitis is contagious, usually by direct contact with infected hands or items that have touched the eye.
  • Allergic conjunctivitis symptoms include watery, burning, itchy eyes and are often accompanied by stuffiness and a runny nose, and sensitivity to light. Allergic conjunctivitis affects both eyes, but this type of pink eye is not contagious.

Conjunctivitis — also known as “pink eye,” is inflammation of the thin, clear covering of the white of the eye and the inside of the eyelids (conjunctiva).

Conjunctivitis can have several causes (see below), but many eye doctors use the term “pink eye” to refer only to viral conjunctivitis, a highly contagious infection caused by a variety of viruses.

“Pink eye” may sound scary to hear, but this common eye problem typically is easily treated. Moreover, with a few simple precautions, pink eye often can be avoided. One type of conjunctivitis, though, can cause serious vision issues if left untreated. See your eye doctor if you are concerned about your pink eye.

NEED AN EYE EXAM? Find an eye doctor near you and schedule an appointment.

Anyone can get pink eye, but office workers, store employees, preschoolers, schoolchildren, college students, teachers and child care workers are particularly at risk for the contagious types of pink eye because they work closely with others.

Here’s what you need to know about pink eye:

What Causes Conjunctivitis?

The primary types of conjunctivitis, based on cause, are:

  • Viral conjunctivitis. Caused by a virus, like the common cold. This type of pink eye is very contagious, but usually will clear up on its own within several days without medical treatment.
  • Bacterial conjunctivitis. Caused by bacteria, this type of conjunctivitis can cause serious damage to the eye if left untreated.
  • Allergic conjunctivitis. Caused by eye irritants such as pollen, dust and animal dander among susceptible individuals. Allergic conjunctivitis may be seasonal (pollen) or flare up year-round (dust; pet dander).

Conjunctivitis Treatments

As you would expect, the treatment of pink eye depends on the type of conjunctivitis you have:

  • Viral conjunctivitis treatment In most cases, viral conjunctivitis will run its course over a period of several days and no medical treatment is required. Applying a cold, wet washcloth to the eyes several times a day can relieve symptoms of viral conjunctivitis.
  • Bacterial conjunctivitis treatment Your eye doctor typically will prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointments for the treatment of bacterial conjunctivitis.
  • Allergic conjunctivitis treatment Allergy medications often can help prevent or shorten bouts of allergic conjunctivitis.

Often it can be difficult to tell the type of conjunctivitis you have by symptoms alone. Also, sometimes other eye or health conditions may be causing your pink eye symptoms.

Conditions associated with conjunctivitis include dry eyes. Also, bacterial conjunctivitis sometimes can lead to very serious eye problems potentially causing permanent vision loss.

For these reasons, anytime you develop red, irritated eyes, you should call an eye doctor immediately and schedule an eye exam.

If you wear contact lenses and have red, irritated eyes, remove your lenses and wear only your spectacles until your eye doctor has had a chance to examine your eyes.

10 Conjunctivitis Prevention Tips

Now that you know the basics about viral pink eye and other forms of conjunctivitis, what can you do to protect yourself and your kids from getting pink eye?

Here are 10 precautions you can take to significantly reduce your risk of getting pink eye:

  1. Never share personal items such as washcloths, hand towels or tissues.
  2. Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.
  3. Avoid rubbing or touching your eyes.
  4. Wash your hands frequently, especially when spending time at school or in other public places.
  5. Keep a hand sanitizer nearby and use it frequently.
  6. Frequently clean surfaces such as countertops, bathroom surfaces, faucet handles and shared phones with an antiseptic cleaner.
  7. If you know you suffer from seasonal allergies, ask your doctor what can be done to minimize your symptoms before they begin.
  8. If you wear contact lenses, follow your eye doctor’s instructions for lens care and replacement, and use contact lens solutions properly or consider switching to daily disposable contact lenses.
  9. When swimming, wear swim goggles to protect yourself from bacteria and other microorganisms in the water that can cause conjunctivitis.
  10. Before showering, remove your contact lenses to avoid trapping bacteria between your eyes and the lenses.

Wash your hands often, to keep viral pink eye from spreading.

Despite these precautions, you or your child still may develop pink eye.

If your child has conjunctivitis, tell his or her teacher about the infection so extra steps can be taken to sanitize the classroom or day care center. Also, keep your child home until the contagious stage has passed.

Your eye doctor will let you know when you or your child can be around others without risk of spreading contagious pink eye — usually about three to five days after the diagnosis.

A red or pink eye sometimes can be a sign of a serious eye problem. For an accurate diagnosis and the most effective treatment, see your eye doctor if you develop a red, irritated eye.

WANT TO SHARE WHAT YOU LEARNED ABOUT PINK EYE? Download this handout for parents and teachers.

Page updated July 2019

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Find an eye doctor near you.

Pink Eye

Viral and bacterial pink eye spread very easily from person to person — but you can take steps to keep pink eye from spreading.

If you’re around someone who has pink eye:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If you don’t have soap and water, you can use hand sanitizer with alcohol in it.
  • Wash your hands after you touch the person with pink eye or something that person used — for example, if you help put eye drops in their eyes, or put their bed sheets in the washing machine.
  • Always wash your hands before touching your eyes.
  • Don’t share personal items that the person with pink eye has used — including pillows, towels, makeup, or glasses.

If you have pink eye:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. Be extra careful about washing them after you touch your eyes or use eye drops or medicine. If you don’t have soap and water, you can use hand sanitizer with alcohol in it.
  • Avoid touching or rubbing your eyes.
  • If you have discharge, wash the area around your eyes 2 or 3 times a day. Use a clean, wet washcloth or a fresh cotton ball each time. Be sure to wash your hands before and after washing your eyes.
  • Don’t share personal items with other people — including pillows, towels, makeup, or glasses.
  • Clean your glasses regularly.
  • If you wear contact lenses, follow your eye doctor’s instructions for cleaning, storing, and replacing them.

You can also take steps to prevent getting pink eye again:

  • Throw away any makeup that you used while you had pink eye. This includes eye makeup, face makeup, and brushes or sponges.
  • Throw away contact lens solution, contact lenses, and cases that you used while you had pink eye.
  • Clean your glasses and cases.

The ultimate guide to pink eye

Your alarm goes off and you turn to check the time, but wait, you can’t see the clock because your eye is crusted shut. It’s the dreaded pink eye.

Many parents know pink eye—or conjunctivitis—is inevitable, especially if your kid attends school or day care, and it can be difficult to prevent its spread to others. Yet, there is a lot more to know about pink eye. For instance, not all forms of pink eye are contagious or require medication to clear up.

Three types of pink eye

  • Bacterial pink eye: Typically, only one eye will turn pinkish-red and is accompanied by thick, yellow or greenish-yellow discharge. This discharge can crust around the eye and even make it difficult to open your eye in the morning. Bacterial pink eye is contagious and is cleared up with prescription antibiotic eye drops.
  • Viral pink eye: One or both eyes may turn pinkish-red and be watery, itchy or sensitive to light, but without the discharge. Often times, viral pink eye follows a cold, flu or sore throat. Viral pink eye is contagious and just like the common cold, there is no cure. Let the virus run its course over a few days and apply a warm compress to your closed eyelids to relieve symptoms
  • Allergic pink eye: When eye redness is caused by seasonal allergies and comes with typical seasonal allergy symptoms, such as stuffiness and a runny or itchy nose. Allergic pink eye typically affects both eyes and is not contagious. Avoid the things that cause the pink eye allergy and relieve with antihistamines or seasonal allergy medications.

How to stop the spread of pink eye

The main reason bacterial and viral pink eye spreads quickly is from touching your eye with your hands or other contaminated objects.

  • Practice good hand hygiene by washing your hands frequently and do not rub your eyes.
  • Clean away any discharge with a warm washcloth. Do not reuse the washcloth. If pink eye affects only one eye, don’t touch both eyes with the same cloth.
  • Stay home for at least 24 hours after beginning antibiotic drops for bacterial pink eye.
  • Separate and launder towels, washcloths or bedding that come in contact with your eye area from the rest of your laundry.
  • Dispose of contact lenses, cases and cleaning solution worn since contracting pink eye.
  • Get rid of eye makeup used before or during the infection.

Clearing up conjunctivitis myths

Let’s bust the myths that persist now that you have the facts about pink eye.

  • Only children can get pink eye. It sounds too good to be true, because it is. Pink eye can affect anyone. The high rate for infection among children is usually a result from not taking precautions against spreading.
  • Infection can spread from a glance. This may sound a bit far-fetched but it is a common misconception. So far, medical professional have not discovered a single disease spread through simple eye contact.
  • Pink eye can cause blindness. While embarrassing and uncomfortable, pink eye is a minor infection. In fact, many cases of pink eye go away without treatment in seven to 10 days. You should consult with an optometrist or your provider if you experience fever, rash, persistent headache, nausea or changes in eye discharge. These symptoms may indicate a more serious condition.
  • Farting on a pillow can cause pink eye. This is a popular myth amongst school-age pranksters that asserts a person who uses a pillowcase that a practical joker farted on will later contract pink eye. You cannot get pink eye from a fart. Flatulence is primarily methane gas and does not contain bacteria. Additionally, bacteria die quickly outside the body.

Talk with your optometrist, health care provider or do an online visit if you’re experiencing the gunky discharge symptoms of bacterial pink eye. If you experience fever, rash, persistent headache, nausea or changes in eye discharge you should see an optometrist, clinic provider or an urgent care provider.


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Pinkeye (Conjunctivitis)

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What Is Pinkeye?

You might know the eye infection conjunctivitis (pronounced: kun-junk-tih-VY-tus) as pinkeye. It’s common in young kids because it’s usually contagious and tends to sweep through preschools and playgrounds. But even teens and adults can get pinkeye.

The good news is that pinkeye is a minor infection and although it might look bad, it’s not usually serious.

What Causes Pinkeye?

Pinkeye is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the white part of the eye and the inner eyelids. The condition can be either infectious (it can spread to other people) or noninfectious.

When people talk about pinkeye, they usually mean the infectious kind. It’s often caused by the same bacteria and viruses responsible for colds and other infections, including ear infections, sinus infections, and sore throats.

It’s also possible for the same types of bacteria that cause the sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) chlamydia and gonorrhea to cause conjunctivitis. If someone touches an infected person’s genitals and then rubs his or her own eye or touches a contact lens, the infection can spread to the eye.

Some kinds of pinkeye are noninfectious, such as:

  • allergic conjunctivitis, caused by an allergic reaction
  • irritant conjunctivitis, caused by anything that irritates the eyes, such as air pollution or chlorine in pools

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Pinkeye?

The very pink or red coloring that gives the infection its nickname is a telltale sign of pinkeye. It’s also usual to have discomfort in the eye, which may feel itchy or gritty. Often, there’s some discharge from the eye, and pain and swelling of the conjunctiva. Pinkeye can affect one or both eyes.

It can be hard to tell whether the infection is caused by a virus or bacteria. In general, the discharge associated with viral conjunctivitis is watery, whereas it will be thicker and more pus-like when the infection is caused by bacteria. When you wake up in the morning, your eyelids may be stuck together (don’t be alarmed, though — cleaning your eyes with a warm washcloth will loosen the dried crusts).

Itchiness and tearing are common with allergic conjunctivitis.

Is Pinkeye Contagious?

Yes, if it’s caused by bacteria or a virus. Pinkeye that’s caused by bacteria can spread to others as soon as symptoms appear and for as long as there’s discharge from the eye — or until 24 hours after antibiotics are started. Conjunctivitis that’s caused by a virus is generally contagious before symptoms appear and can remain so as long as the symptoms last.

Allergic conjunctivitis and irritant conjunctivitis are not contagious.

How Is Pinkeye Treated?

Because it can be hard to tell which kind of conjunctivitis a person has, it’s wise to visit a doctor if your eyes are red and irritated.

Bacterial conjunctivitis is usually treated with prescription antibiotic drops or ointment. Drops — the form of treatment most commonly prescribed for teens — are used up to four times a day. They don’t hurt, although they may cause a brief stinging sensation. Even though your eyes should feel and look better after a couple of days, it’s important to use the drops for as long as the doctor has prescribed. The infection may come back if you stop too soon.

If a virus is causing conjunctivitis, antibiotic drops will not help. The eye infection will get better on its own as the body fights off the virus.

If you have allergic conjunctivitis, your doctor may prescribe anti-allergy eyedrops or medicine in pill form.

Can Pinkeye Be Prevented?

Because infectious conjunctivitis is highly contagious, wash your hands after interacting with anyone who has the infection. Don’t share potentially infected items like washcloths, towels, gauze, or cotton balls. This can be difficult among family members, so just do the best you can.

If you have pinkeye, it’s important to wash your hands often, especially after touching your eyes. The infection can easily spread from one eye to the other on contaminated hands or tissues.

It’s also wise not to share cosmetics, especially eye makeup. Bacteria can hang out on beauty products, so avoid using the testers at makeup counters directly on your eyes. And if you’ve already had a bout of pinkeye, throw away all your eye makeup and splurge on new stuff (but don’t start using your new products until the infection is completely gone).

If you wear contact lenses and you have pinkeye, your doctor or eye doctor may recommend that you not wear contact lenses while infected. After the infection is gone, clean your lenses carefully. Be sure to disinfect the lenses and case at least twice before wearing them again. If you wear disposable contact lenses, throw away your current pair and use a new pair.

If you know that you’re prone to allergic conjunctivitis, limit allergy triggers in the home by keeping windows and doors closed on days when pollen is heavy and by not letting dust accumulate. Irritant conjunctivitis can only be prevented by avoiding the irritating causes.

How Can I Feel Better?

Placing cool or warm packs or washcloths over the infected eye (or eyes) can help. You can also take acetaminophen, if necessary. Clean the infected eye carefully with warm water and fresh, clean gauze or cotton balls.

Keep track of your symptoms, keep your hands clean, visit your doctor as needed, and follow your treatment instructions carefully. Within a week, your eyes should be feeling better.

Reviewed by: Patricia Solo-Josephson, MD Date reviewed: June 2017

How long are you contagious with pink eye?

The following are some of the more frequently asked questions about pink eye:

Will pink eye go away on its own?

Yes, it may do.

It will often take a few days to about 2 weeks for mild infections. People who get pink eye frequently may want to discuss the issue with their doctor to see if there is an underlying reason.

When is it safe to return to work or school?

People should not return to work or school until their symptoms clear completely. A person should talk to their doctor about when it is safe for them to return to normal activities.

A rough guide to when it is safe to return to work or school is:

  • Bacterial pink eye: After 24 hours of antibiotic treatment.
  • Viral pink eye: After 2 days to about a week.
  • Allergic pink eye: No need to stay home.

What should a person do with unused makeup?

Makeup and any products used on or near the eyes should be thrown away if:

  • it was applied during or just prior to an infection
  • it is old and dirty

It is better to buy new makeup than risk using tainted makeup that could spread an infection.

Should contact lenses be thrown out?

People are unlikely to want to wear their contact lenses when they have pink eye.

Disposable lenses worn either right before or during an infection should be thrown out. Hard lenses should be cleaned thoroughly before being used again.

People can also help prevent infections by using only sterile contact solution to store their contacts and cleaning their hands before inserting or removing them.

What should I do if my newborn has pink eye?

Parents should take a newborn baby to be seen by a doctor if the infant develops pink eye. Persistent, watery discharge may be due to a blocked tear duct, but the eye will not usually be red. A blocked tear duct will often clear up on its own.

In other cases in newborns, there may be a more serious infection that requires medical attention.

How can I prevent pink eye?

Share on PinterestWashing hands before inserting or removing contacts is recommended.

Avoiding pink eye can be tricky, as it is highly contagious. People should try to avoid close contact with anyone who has pink eye until their symptoms have cleared.

Everyone can take precautions, such as:

  • not touching or rub eyes
  • washing hands well, especially before inserting or removing contacts
  • not sharing personal items
  • keeping contacts and glasses thoroughly clean
  • washing clothes, towels, and pillowcases regularly
  • staying at home when infected

May 13, 2019

Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, affects both adults and children, with about 3 million cases reported each year in the United States alone.1 While it’s one of the most common and treatable eye conditions, it’s also incredibly uncomfortable and sometimes just downright gross.

As its name implies, the condition causes the white of the eye to turn pink or red. The pink or reddish color is a result of the inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is the clear, thin membrane that lines the inside of the eyelid and white portion of the eyeball.

Some of the more ick-inducing symptoms include a discharge, pus, or mucus secreting from the eyes, which sometimes causes the eyelashes to stick together. Especially in the morning, you might find your eyelids or lashes are crusty. Most people know that pink eye is a highly contagious disease, but that’s not actually always the case. It all depends on the type.

What Causes Pink Eye?

Did you know that there are four main causes of pink eye? Of the four, only two are actually considered highly contagious: viral and bacterial conjunctivitis.

Viral conjunctivitis is an infection of the eye that is caused by a wide variety of viruses. It typically begins in one eye and then spreads to the other within days. Discharge from the eye is usually watery rather than thick, and it may occur in combination with an upper respiratory tract infection, cold, or sore throat.1

Bacterial conjunctivitis is an infection of the eye that is – you guessed it – caused by bacteria. It sometimes occurs with an ear infection, and the discharge associated with this type of pink eye can cause eyelashes to stick together. Bacterial conjunctivitis is much more common in children than adults.2 In fact, according to one study, this form of pink eye is the leading cause of children staying home from daycare or school.3

Either by direct contact, airborne transmission, or interaction with an infected object, viral and bacterial conjunctivitis can easily spread from person to person.4 The best way to protect yourself is to practice good hygiene habits. Those practices include washing your hands often and avoiding contact with items such as the pillows, washcloths, or makeup of an infected person.5

Another big no-no when infected with a contagious form of pink eye: swimming pools. As tempting as it might be to take a dip on a hot summer day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that you skip the pool if you’re diagnosed with viral or bacterial conjunctivitis.5 Even chlorine can’t guarantee that the water is germ-free.6

While the other two common causes of pink eye – allergens and irritants – are not contagious, they can be just as irritating.

Allergic conjunctivitis is the body’s reaction to allergens, including molds, pollen, dust mites, animal dander, and more, and, in most cases, affects both eyes. While discharge isn’t normally a symptom, the eyes do tend to become red or pink, swollen, extremely itchy, and watery.

Contact lens wearers are likely the most familiar with the final common cause: irritants. Irritation from a foreign body (like an eye lash), chemicals, fumes, dust, smoke, or contact lenses that are worn too long or not properly cleaned cause this form of pink eye. Watery eyes and mucus discharge are typically associated with conjunctivitis caused by irritants.

In addition to irritants, contact lens wearers are also more prone to specific types of bacterial conjunctivitis and can develop corneal ulcers, which are open sores on the cornea of the eye.

How Can I Feel Better Faster?

Generally speaking, pink eye sometimes clears up on its own within one to two weeks maximum – depending on the cause.

Of course, there are some instances in which it’s recommended that you visit a healthcare pro:

  • Newborns with any pink eye symptoms should see their pediatrician immediately. An infection, irritation, or a blocked tear duct in a newborn can be the cause of neonatal conjunctivitis, which can be serious.
  • Anyone who wears contact lenses. It’s recommended that use of contact lenses be discontinued until a medical professional directs that they can safely be worn again.
  • Anyone with a weakened immune system from HIV infection, cancer treatment, or other medical conditions/treatments.
  • Anyone with an eye injury in which the eye could be scratched or there is a possibility of a foreign body in the eye.
  • Intense redness or pain in the eye.
  • Sensitivity to light or blurred vision that does not improve when discharge is cleared from the eye.
  • Any symptoms that get worse or do not improve.

If a medical professional does treat you for pink eye and you’re diagnosed with bacterial conjunctivitis, you may be prescribed an antibiotic. Oftentimes, the antibiotic will be prescribed in the form of eye drops. An antiviral medication may also be prescribed for the most serious cases of viral conjunctivitis.

Since the symptoms are very similar across the four common types of pink eye, the exact cause can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint. The healthcare professionals at your local MedExpress center can help identify treatment options for your form of pink eye – whether it’s viral, bacterial, allergens, or irritants.

While there’s no “quick fix” for pink eye, you can take steps to manage the discomfort as the infection runs its course. For instance, you can use cold compresses, but be sure not to touch both eyes with the same cloth, as that could spread the infection from one eye to the other. You can also purchase artificial tears over the counter without a prescription to soothe the inflammation and dryness.

When Can I Return to Work or School?

We’re sure you’re itching to get back to all-day meetings and shuttling your kids off to soccer practice, but don’t forget that viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are highly contagious.

The best advice is to consult a healthcare professional to determine when you or your child’s symptoms are mild enough to interact with others again. According to the CDC, if a person isn’t exhibiting a fever or symptoms other than red, itchy eyes, you may be able to return to work or school.4 When in doubt, it’s always best to talk with your doctor to make sure you aren’t bringing those contagious germs into shared spaces.

Continuing to practice good hygiene habits is the best way to stop the spread of contagious forms of pink eye. If you’re still experiencing mild symptoms when returning to work or school, be sure to wash your hands often with soap and warm water. Also, avoid touching your eyes, and do not share items that come in contact with your face, such as towels, pillowcases, and makeup. If you use contact lenses, wear your glasses until the infection completely clears and replace the last pair of lenses that you wore.

How Do I Prevent Reinfection?

The last of your symptoms are beginning to disappear, and you can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. You’re home free now, right? Not so fast.

It’s important to take some simple steps to prevent reinfection after your pink eye infection has cleared – especially if you were experiencing viral or bacterial conjunctivitis. The National Eye Institute (NEI) recommends the following:

  • Throw away any eye or face makeup or applicators you used while infected.
  • Throw away contact lens solutions you used while infected.
  • Throw away contact lenses and cases you used, or thoroughly clean extended wear lenses as directed.
  • Clean your eyeglasses and cases.1

Following this advice will put you on the fast-track to a full recovery, but don’t be surprised if you contract pink eye again. After all, it is one of the most common – and treatable – eye conditions in America.

1 National Eye Institute: Facts about Pink Eye. Last updated November 2015. Accessed March 22, 2019.

2 CDC: Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye): Causes. Last Updated January 4, 2019. Accessed March 25, 2019.

3 Academic Emergency Medicine Journal: Clinical features of bacterial conjunctivitis in children. Published January 2007. Accessed March 25, 2019.

4 CDC: Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye): Transmission. Last Updated January 4, 2019. Accessed March 25, 2019.

5 CDC: Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye): Prevention. Last Updated January 4, 2019. Accessed April 2, 2019.

6 University of Iowa Health Care: Eyes react to pool water. Last Updated June 2017. Accessed April 2, 2019.

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