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Home > Services > Eye Care > Eye Conditions & Treatments > Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)

Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)

Conjunctivitis (pink eye) is swelling and irritation in the eye. It affects the tissue that covers the eye and lines the inner surface of the eyelid. This tissue is called conjunctiva.

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There are many causes of conjunctivitis, including:

  • Viral infection
  • Bacterial infection
  • Allergic reaction, usually related to seasonal allergies
  • Chemical irritation caused by:
    • Air pollutants
    • Soap
    • Smoke
    • Chlorine
    • Make-up
    • Other chemicals

Both viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are highly contagious.

Are You at Risk?

Factors that may increase your risk of conjunctivitis include:

  • Contact with a person who has conjunctivitis
  • Sharing towels, linens, or other objects (even doorknobs) with an infected person
  • Exposure to chemical or environmental irritants
  • Contact lenses, especially if contacts are not cleaned and stored properly
  • Seasonal allergies or contact with known allergens

Pink Eye Symptoms

Symptoms include:

  • Red, watery eyes
  • Swollen inner eyelids
  • Scratchy feeling in the eyes
  • Itchy eyes
  • Pus-like or watery discharge
  • Swelling of the eyelid

Conjunctivitis will usually clear up within 2-14 days. If conjunctivitis is caused by a seasonal allergy, it may continue throughout the season.

Diagnosis & Treatment 

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history and perform an eye exam. If there is discharge from your eye, your doctor may test it to help find the cause of the conjunctivitis.

If you wear contacts, avoid wearing them until the conjunctivitis has cleared. Treatment depends on the cause of the conjunctivitis.

Bacterial Infection

Your doctor may prescribe you antibiotic eye drops and/or ointment to help shorten the course of the infection. It will also decrease the amount of time it's contagious. Wipe away any discharge with a clean cotton ball before using the drops.

Viral Infection

There is no medicine to cure a viral infection. To help relieve discomfort consider:

  • Applying warm compresses
  • Artificial tears (found in pharmacies)

Allergic or Chemical Irritation

Avoid the cause of the irritation, such as smoke, pollen or make-up. Apply cool compresses to the affected area. Allergy eye drops may help relieve allergic conjunctivitis.

Prevention

To decrease your chance of conjunctivitis:

  • Do not share makeup or eye drops with anyone else.
  • Avoid sharing towels, washcloths, pillows and handkerchiefs.
  • Wash your hands frequently. Keep your hands away from your eyes.
  • Clean contact lenses daily. Never sleep with them unless approved by your eye doctor.
  • In case of allergic conjunctivitis, avoid the allergy causing substances and irritants.

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Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.