Skip to content

Eye Health Center

Font Size

Pinkeye - Topic Overview

opth_01.jpg

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 camera.gif and an eye with conjunctivitis camera.gif.

How Long Does Pinkeye Last?

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 few days.

Read more about home treatment for pinkeye

Pinkeye is very common. It usually is not serious and goes away in 7 to 10 days without medical treatment.

Most cases of pinkeye are caused by:

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.

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.

Pinkeye may be more serious if you:

  • Have a condition that decreases your body's ability to fight infection (impaired immune system).
  • Have vision in only one eye.
  • Wear contact lenses.

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.

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. The person can usually return to day care, school, or work 24 hours after an antibiotic has been started if symptoms have improved. Prescription antibiotic treatment usually kills the bacteria that cause pinkeye.

1|2
Next Article:

Today on WebMD

Woman holding tissue to reddened eye
Learn about causes, symptoms, and treatments.
eye
Simple annoyance or the sign of a problem?
 
red eyes
Symptoms, triggers, and treatments.
blue eye with contact lens
Tips for wearing and caring.
 
Understanding Stye
Article
human eye
Article
 
eye
Video
eye exam timing
Video
 
vision test
Tool
is vision correction surgery for you
Article
 
high tech contacts
Article
eye drop
Article
 

Special Sections