Pinkeye (Conjunctivitis)

What is Pinkeye?

Pinkeye is an inflammation of the sclera (white part) of the eye and inner surface of the eyelids. Pinkeye can be caused by an allergic reaction, a viral infection or a bacterial infection. Pinkeye does not cause significant visual loss or persistent blurring of vision.


Allergic pinkeye is not contagious. It cannot be spread from person to person. This condition is usually seasonal, causes intense itching, watery discharge, minimal redness, if any, and may produce swelling in the eye area.


Viral pinkeye is more common in older children and young adults. It often accompanies an upper respiratory infection. Adenovirus is a common agent of viral conjunctivitis in college students. It spreads easily from person to person, and causes intense redness of the white part of the eye (the sclera).

Hand washing and decreasing hand-to-eye contact are important steps in preventing the spread of viral pinkeye. Often only one eye is affected, the discharge is watery or mucoid, and there is significant redness. The eye may feel irritated but rarely very painful.


Bacterial pinkeye produces a thick yellow or green discharge and moderate redness. There may be swelling of the eyelid. Routine hand washing and decreasing hand-to-eye contact are important steps in preventing the spread of bacterial pinkeye.

How is it spread? (Viral and Bacterial Only)

Pinkeye is spread through direct contact with the discharge from the infected person’s eyes or respiratory tract. You can get pinkeye from someone’s fingers or from sharing their eye makeup, clothing, towels, and washcloths.

How is it treated?

Bacterial pinkeye is treated with antibiotic drops. Take all medications as prescribed even if you start to feel better in a day or so. Most viral infections need no treatment and will resolve after several days to a week. Allergic pinkeye may respond well to oral antihistamines (Claritin or Zyrtec) and/or eye drops specific for allergies.

If the secretions makes your eyelashes stick together, which usually occurs in the morning, put a warm wet washcloth on your eye to soften the crusts. This may need to be repeated several times. Gently wipe the crusts from your eyelashes.

Do not scratch or rub your eyes - it may make the infection/irritation/itching worse or may spread infection to the unaffected eye.

If you wear contacts, leave them out until at least one day beyond complete resolution of symptoms and after you have finished using any medication or eye drops.

How is it prevented?

Handwashing and general cleanliness is the best way NOT to get pinkeye. Avoid touching your eyes with unwashed hands, especially when you have a cold. Also, avoid sharing bath towels, washcloths, and makeup.