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
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 tips on how
to prevent the spread of pinkeye, see the Prevention section of this
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
An infection may develop when bacteria enter the eye or the area
around the eye. Some common infections that cause pinkeye include: