Pinkeye (also called conjunctivitis) is redness and swelling of the conjunctiva, the mucous membrane that lines the eyelid and eye surface. The lining of the eye is usually clear. If irritation or infection occurs, the lining becomes red and swollen. See pictures of a normal eye and an eye with conjunctivitis.
Traditionally, at-home remedies have been sufficient for soothing
conjunctivitis associated with uncomplicated colds, minor infections, or
allergies. Treatment consists primarily of cleansing the eyes and preventing
the condition from spreading.
Viral conjunctivitis usually runs its course in one to two weeks. Because it
is not caused by bacteria, viral conjunctivitis does not respond to
antibiotics. Artificial tears will also help relieve symptoms.
For bacterial conjunctivitis, the treatment will probably call for
antibiotic eye drops or ointment. This generally clears the symptoms within a
Viral and bacterial pinkeye are contagious and spread very easily. Since most pinkeye is caused by viruses for which there is usually no medical treatment, preventing its spread is important. Poor hand-washing is the main cause of the spread of pinkeye. Sharing an object, such as a washcloth or towel, with a person who has pinkeye can spread the infection. For more information, see Prevention.
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.
If the pinkeye is caused by a virus, the person can usually return to day care, school, or work when symptoms begin to improve, typically in 3 to 5 days. Medicines are not usually used to treat viral pinkeye, so it is important to prevent the spread of the infection. Pinkeye caused by a herpes virus, which is rare, can be treated with an antiviral medicine. Home treatment of viral pinkeye symptoms can help you feel more comfortable while the infection goes away.