What Is Pinkeye and Just How Contagious Is It?

May 7th 2016

Although pinkeye is considered highly contagious, spread of the infection can be skirted with relative ease. In addition to abstaining from direct contact with anyone who has conjunctivitis, taking precautions such as washing your hands thoroughly and avoiding the sharing of clothing or towels can decrease the risk of passing along the infection to others.


Pinkeye is commonly caused by viral or bacterial infections or allergies. The herpes virus and adenovirus often produce sore throats or upper respiratory infections in addition to redness and swelling in the eye. In some cases, individuals contract pink eye from smoke, fumes or chemicals. Exposure to wind and sun or dry eyes from lack of tears can increase the risk for pinkeye. Pinkeye is contagious and spreads easily through contact with individuals infected with the condition. Sharing towels and washcloths can transfer the bacteria and viral infection to others.


Signs and symptoms of pinkeye often include a burning or itching feeling within the eyelids as well as swelling around the eyelids. Redness in the white of the eye is a common sign of the virus. Some individuals may experience thick white or clear drainage from the eye in addition to swollen or tender areas in front of the ears. Patients may also experience increased sensitivity to light, crusting of the lashes or eyelids and a gritty feeling in the eye.

Symptoms typically last five to seven days but can develop into a more serious chronic condition that may not clear for up to three weeks, especially if untreated. Individuals who wear contact lenses, have limited vision in the eyes or have an impaired immune system may experience more serious symptoms with a routine pinkeye infection. A consultation with a physician can determine additional risks.


Viral bacteria infections are not always treated, as the infection can resolve itself on its own within three to five days. In some cases, patients may need an antibiotic to clear a severe infection that is compromising vision.


Pinkeye, also known as conjunctivitis, is a common bacterial infection that causes swelling and redness in the mucous membrane that lines the eye surface or eyelid. Pinkeye is not a serious condition typically, and often subsides within seven to 10 days following medical treatment. By adhering to a few safe practices, however, chances of catching or spreading the infection can be diminished greatly.

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