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Pink eye (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.
Pink eye is very common. It usually isn't serious and goes away in 7 to 10 days without medical treatment.
Most cases of pink eye are caused by:
Viral and bacterial pink eye are contagious. They spread very easily. Poor handwashing is the main cause of the spread of pink eye. Sharing an object, such as a face cloth or towel, with a person who has pink eye can spread the infection.
Viral pink eye 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 pink eye.
Viral pink eye 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.
Pink eye may be more serious if you:
Medicines aren't usually used to treat viral pink eye, so it's important to prevent the spread of the infection. Pink eye caused by a herpes virus, which is rare, can be treated with an antiviral medicine. Home treatment of viral pink eye symptoms can help you feel more comfortable while the infection goes away.
People with viral pink eye should stay at home until their symptoms are gone.
An infection may occur when bacteria enter the eye or the area around the eye. Some common infections that cause pink eye include:
Bacterial pink eye may cause more drainage than viral pink eye. 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 daycare, school, or work 24 hours after an antibiotic has been started if symptoms have improved. Prescription antibiotic treatment usually kills the bacteria that cause pink eye.
Red eye is a more general term that includes not only pink eye but also many other problems that cause redness on or around the eye, not just the lining. Pink eye 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 pink eye 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.
Adaptation Date: 2/10/2023
Adapted By: Alberta Health Services
Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services
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