What causes pinkeye, how long it’s contagious and when to see a doctor

Pinkeye can be caused by a virus, bacteria, allergic reaction or environmental irritants.

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How long is pink eye contagious, what causes it and when should you seek medical care? Here are some of the basics about pinkeye.

What causes pinkeye?

Pinkeye can be caused by a virus, bacteria, allergic reaction or environmental irritants. Also known as conjunctivitis, it is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the white part of the eye and the inner eyelids.

“Pinkeye can be extremely contagious and spread through schools and day cares very easily, so parents should pay attention to their child’s symptoms and take appropriate measures to prevent further spread,” said Jameel T. Clark, M.D., pediatrician with Norton Children’s Medical Group – Dixie.

Symptoms of pinkeye

  • Redness or swelling of the white of the eye or inside the eyelids
  • Increased amount of tears
  • White, yellow or green eye discharge
  • Itchy, irritated and/or burning eyes
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Gritty feeling in the eye
  • Crusting of the eyelids or lashes

How do you get pinkeye?

A child can get pinkeye by touching an infected person or something an infected person has touched, such as a used tissue. In the summertime, pinkeye can spread when kids swim in contaminated water or share contaminated towels. It also can spread through coughing, sneezing or rubbing one’s eyes.

Norton Children’s Medical Group

Our pediatricians can help treat pinkeye and other common childhood illnesses.

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Children and adults should wash their hands regularly with soap and water and avoid sharing eyedrops, makeup, bed linens and towels, as these products and surfaces can cause pinkeye to spread.

How long is pinkeye contagious?

Viral or bacterial pinkeye is contagious. Viral pink eye is contagious before symptoms appear and for as long as symptoms are present. Bacterial pink eye is contagious as long as someone is symptomatic, if there is discharge from the eye, or until 24 hours after starting antibiotics.

Allergic conjunctivitis and irritant conjunctivitis are not contagious.

How do I get rid of pinkeye?

Viral pinkeye usually goes away without any treatment, and bacterial pink eye is treated with antibiotic eye drops.

Using cool or warm compresses on the eyes can help your child be more comfortable and also help remove any dried or crusty discharge that can form on the eyelids. If symptoms do not improve after two to three days of treatment, or after a week if left untreated, call your provider.