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Pinkeye (Conjunctivitis)

Pinkeye (conjunctivitis) is redness and swelling of the conjunctiva, the mucous membrane that lines the eyelid and eye surface. Pinkeye symptoms usually start in one eye and may then spread to the other eye. The most common type of pinkeye is caused by a virus and occurs most often in adults.

Viral pinkeye

Viral pinkeye is often caused by an adenovirus, which is a common respiratory virus that can also cause a sore throat or upper respiratory infection. The herpes virus can also cause viral pinkeye.

Symptoms of viral pinkeye include:

  • Redness in the white of the eye.
  • Swelling of the eyelids.
  • Itching or burning feeling of the eyelids.
  • Swollen and tender areas in front of the ears.
  • A lot of tearing.
  • Clear or slightly thick, whitish drainage.

Viral pinkeye symptoms usually last 5 to 7 days but may last up to 3 weeks and can become ongoing or chronic.

Bacterial pinkeye

An infection may develop when bacteria enter the eye or the area around the eye. Some common infections that cause pinkeye include:

Symptoms of bacterial pinkeye include:

  • Redness in the white of the eye.
  • Gray or yellow drainage from the eye. This drainage may cause the eyelashes to stick together.
  • Mild pain.
  • Swelling of the upper eyelid, which may make the lid appear to droop (pseudoptosis).

Bacterial pinkeye may cause more drainage than viral pinkeye. Bacterial infections usually last 7 to 10 days without antibiotic treatment and 2 to 4 days with antibiotic treatment.

Treatment for pinkeye

If you have bacterial pinkeye:

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly before and after touching your eyes.
  • Use warm or cool compresses, whichever feels better, to help relieve swelling and redness.
  • Change and wash towels and linens when they become soiled with drainage.
  • Do not wear contacts as long as you still have symptoms.

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised November 2, 2011

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 02, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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