Pinkeye is a highly contagious eye infection. Though not necessarily dangerous, pinkeye can be irritating and sometimes painful. Coming in contact with someone who has untreated pinkeye can put others at risk for this downright unpleasant eye infection. Children are especially susceptible to contracting pinkeye from a friend or classmate.
Also known as conjunctivitis, pinkeye is inflammation and infection affecting the conjunctiva (the transparent membrane), which lines the eyelid and covers the whites of the eyes. Tiny blood vessels in the eye become inflamed, making them more visible, and the eye appears pink or red, hence the name “pinkeye.”
Pinkeye can be either viral or bacterial. Both are very contagious.
Viral pinkeye is commonly caused by an adenovirus, a common respiratory virus that also causes sore throat and/or upper respiratory infection. The herpes virus can also cause viral pinkeye.
Bacterial pinkeye is caused by bacteria that enter the eye or the area around the eye. Common bacterial infections that can cause pinkeye include: staph, gonorrhea, cat-scratch disease and haemophilus influenzae type b.
Symptoms of pinkeye vary slightly depending on whether the infection is viral or bacterial.
Symptoms of viral pinkeye include:
The symptoms of viral pinkeye often last five to seven days, but they can become chronic.
Symptoms of bacterial pinkeye include:
The symptoms of bacterial pinkeye often last seven to 10 days without antibiotics, or two to four days with antibiotics.
As is the case with most viruses, viral pinkeye must run its course, which could last up to two or three weeks, with symptoms gradually clearing on their own. If the known cause of viral pinkeye is the herpes virus, antiviral medication may be prescribed to help aid healing.
Bacterial pinkeye can be treated with antibiotic eye ointment or eye drops, and symptoms should improve within a few days. Any prescribed antibacterial ointment or eye drops should be used until they are gone to prevent the infection’s return.
Pinkeye is generally considered contagious as long as the eye is producing discharge. Bacterial pinkeye may no longer be considered contagious after 24 hours of application of antibacterial eye drops or eye ointment.
Good hygiene, such as frequent hand washing, avoiding touching the eyes and using clean towels and washcloths, can help prevent the spread of pinkeye. If you have pinkeye, you should also throw away any eye cosmetics, including applicators.