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 gets red and swollen.
Pinkeye is very common. It usually isn't 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. They spread very easily. 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.
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.
Viral pinkeye symptoms usually get better on their own in 7 to 10 days. But they may last up to 3 weeks and can become ongoing or chronic.
Pinkeye may be more serious if you:
If the pinkeye is caused by a virus, the person can usually return to day care, school, or work when symptoms start to improve. This most often takes 3 to 5 days. Medicines aren't usually used to treat viral pinkeye, so it's 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 occur when bacteria enter the eye or the area around the eye. Some common infections that cause pinkeye include:
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.
Red eye is a more general term that includes not only pinkeye but also many other problems that cause redness on or around the eye, not just the lining. Pinkeye is the main cause of red eye. Red eye has other causes, such as:
Swollen, red eyelids may also be caused by styes, a lump called a chalazion, inflammation of the eyelid (blepharitis), or lack of tears (dry eyes).
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
Symptoms of serious illness may include:
Symptoms of serious illness in a baby may include the following:
Pain in adults and older children
Pain in children under 3 years
It can be hard to tell how much pain a baby or toddler is in.
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in adults are:
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in children are:
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call 911 or other emergency services now.
Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.
Make your child comfortable
Prevent pinkeye from spreading
Use antibiotics as directed
If the doctor gave your child antibiotic medicine, such as an ointment or eyedrops, use it as directed. Do not stop using it just because your child's eyes start to look better. Your child needs to take the full course of antibiotics. If your child isn't able to hold still, have another adult help you with their care.
To put in eyedrops or ointment:
Call a doctor if any of the following occur during self-care at home:
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared for your appointment.
Current as of:
January 24, 2022
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: January 24, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2022 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.