Top of the page
Pink eye 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 pink eye is also called conjunctivitis (say "kun-JUNK-tih-VY-tus"). The lining of the eye is normally clear and colourless.
Pink eye is common. It usually spreads easily, especially among children in daycare centres and schools.
Because pink eye is often spread from eye to hand to eye, good handwashing is important. Sharing a face cloth, towel, or other item with a person who has pink eye can spread the infection.
See pictures of a normal eye and one with conjunctivitis.
Pink eye 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, pink eye can be caused by infection with bacteria.
Dry air, allergies, smoke, and chemicals can also cause pink eye.
Symptoms of pink eye include:
You may have symptoms in one eye, both eyes, or the symptoms may spread from one eye to the other eye. When pink eye is caused by a virus, symptoms usually start in one eye and may then spread to the other eye.
If you think you have pink eye, 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 pink eye may also have an ear infection, so they may need to see a doctor.
A doctor can usually diagnose pink eye with an eye examination 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 pink eye 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 eyedrops or eye ointment. With antibiotic treatment, symptoms usually go away in 2 to 3 days. But antibiotics only work for bacterial pink eye, not for the more common viral pink eye. Viral pink eye often clears on its own in 7 to 10 days. If your symptoms last longer, call your doctor.
If the pink eye is caused by an allergy or chemical, it will not go away until you avoid whatever is causing it.
Home treatment of pink eye symptoms can help you feel more comfortable while the infection goes away.
Pink eye 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 pink eye:
People with pink eye should stay at home until their symptoms are gone.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Adaptation Date: 10/28/2020
Adapted By: Alberta Health Services
Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2020 Healthwise, Incorporated. All rights reserved. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.