First Time User? Sign Up Now
First Time User? Enroll now.
Home > Health Library > Pinkeye (Conjunctivitis)
Pinkeye is redness and swelling of the lining of the eyelid and eye surface. The lining is called the conjunctiva (say "kawn-junk-TY-vuh"), and pinkeye is also called conjunctivitis (say "kun-JUNK-tih-VY-tus"). The lining of the eye is normally clear and colorless.
Pinkeye is common. It usually spreads easily, especially among children in day care centers and schools.
Because pinkeye is often spread from eye to hand to eye, good hand-washing is important. Sharing a washcloth, towel, or other item with a person who has pinkeye can spread the infection.
See pictures of a normal eye and one with conjunctivitis.
Pinkeye is most often caused by a virus. It usually occurs at the same time as or right after you have had a cold. Less commonly, pinkeye can be caused by infection with bacteria.
Dry air, allergies, smoke, and chemicals can also cause pinkeye.
Symptoms of pinkeye include:
You may have symptoms in one eye, both eyes, or the symptoms may spread from one eye to the other eye. When pinkeye is caused by a virus, symptoms usually start in one eye and may then spread to the other eye.
If you think you have pinkeye, call your doctor to find out the best way to treat it. And if you are wearing contact lenses, be sure to take them out right away. Certain health risks may increase the seriousness of your symptoms.
If you have other symptoms like eye pain or a change in your vision, if you wear contact lenses, or if you have other medical problems, you may have a more serious eye problem. In these cases it is especially important to see a doctor. Young children with pinkeye may also have an ear infection, so they may need to see a doctor.
A doctor can usually diagnose pinkeye with an eye exam and by asking questions about your symptoms. Sometimes the doctor will use a cotton swab to take some fluid from around your eye so it can be tested for bacteria or other infection.
If your doctor thinks the pinkeye is caused by bacteria, he or she may prescribe antibiotic eyedrops or eye ointment to kill the bacteria. See a picture of how to apply eye drops or eye ointment. With antibiotic treatment, symptoms usually go away in 2 to 3 days. But antibiotics only work for bacterial pinkeye, not for the more common viral pinkeye. Viral pinkeye often clears on its own in 7 to 10 days. If your symptoms last longer, call your doctor.
If the pinkeye is caused by an allergy or chemical, it will not go away until you avoid whatever is causing it.
Home treatment of pinkeye symptoms can help you feel more comfortable while the infection goes away.
Pinkeye caused by a virus or bacteria is spread through contact with the eye drainage. Touching an infected eye leaves drainage on your hand. If you touch your other eye or an object when you have drainage on your hand, you can spread the virus or bacteria.
Follow these tips to help prevent the spread of pinkeye:
Some schools ask that children with pinkeye be kept at home until they are better or have started antibiotic treatment.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Other Works Consulted
Garcia-Ferrer FJ, et al. (2008). Conjunctiva. In P Riordan-Eva, JP Whitcher, eds., Vaughan and Asbury's General Ophthalmology, 17th ed., pp. 98–124. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Wright KW (2008). Pediatric "pink eye." In Pediatric Ophthalmology for Primary Care, 3rd ed., pp. 159–187. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
Current as of: June 26, 2019
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Current as of: June 26, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2020 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.