What is pinkeye?
Pinkeye 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 pinkeye is also called conjunctivitis
(say "kun-JUNK-tih-VY-tus"). The lining of the eye is normally clear and
Pinkeye is common. It usually spreads easily, especially among children
in day care centers and schools.
Because pinkeye is often spread
from eye to hand to eye, good hand-washing is important. Sharing a washcloth,
towel, or other item with a person who has pinkeye can spread the
See pictures of a normal
eye and one with
What causes pinkeye?
Pinkeye 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, pinkeye can be caused by infection with bacteria.
air, allergies, smoke, and chemicals can also cause pinkeye.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of pinkeye
- Itchy or burning
- More tears than usual. The eye may drain a clear or slightly
thick, whitish liquid.
- Gray or yellow
drainage from the eye. Waking up with the eyelashes of
one or both eyes stuck together from this dried drainage is a common symptom of
sensitivity to light (photophobia).
You may have symptoms in one eye, both eyes, or the
symptoms may spread from one eye to the other eye. When pinkeye is caused by a
virus, symptoms usually start in one eye and may then spread to the other
If you think you have pinkeye, 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
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 pinkeye may also have an ear infection, so they may need to see a doctor.
How is pinkeye diagnosed?
can usually diagnose pinkeye with an eye exam 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
How is it treated?
If your doctor thinks the pinkeye is caused by bacteria, he or she may
prescribe antibiotic eyedrops or eye ointment to kill the bacteria. See a
how to apply eye drops or
eye ointment . With antibiotic treatment, symptoms usually go away in 2 to 3
days. But antibiotics only work for bacterial pinkeye, not for the more common
viral pinkeye. Viral pinkeye often clears on its own
in 7 to 10 days. If your
symptoms last longer, call your doctor.
- Eye Problems: Using Eyedrops and Eye Ointments.
If the pinkeye is caused by an allergy or chemical, it will
not go away until you avoid whatever is causing it.
of pinkeye symptoms can help you feel more comfortable while the infection goes
- Wash your hands often. Always wash them before and after you treat pinkeye or
touch your eyes or face.
- Use moist cotton or a clean, wet cloth to
Wipe from the inside corner of the eye to the outside. Use a clean part of the
cloth for each wipe. If the infection is in only one eye, be careful not to
spread it to the other eye.
warm wet cloths (whichever feels better) on your eye a
few times a day if the eye hurts.
- Do not wear
contact lenses until the pinkeye is gone. Sterilize
your contacts, and clean your storage case. If you wear disposable contacts,
use a new pair when your eye has cleared and it is safe to wear contacts again.
Wait at least 2 days after the symptoms are gone before you wear contacts
- If the doctor gave you antibiotic eyedrops or ointment, use
them as directed. Use the medicine for as long as instructed, even if your eye
starts to look better sooner. Keep the bottle tip clean, and do not let it
touch the eye area.
- Do not wear eye makeup until the pinkeye is
gone. Throw away any eye makeup you were using when you got pinkeye.
- Do not share towels, pillows, or washcloths while you have
- Use allergy eyedrops and medicines to reduce symptoms of
pinkeye caused by allergies.
How can you avoid spreading pinkeye?
Pinkeye 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.
tips to help prevent the spread of pinkeye:
- Wash your hands before and after you touch your
eyes or face or use medicine in your eyes.
- Do not share eye
- Do not share contact lens equipment, containers, or
- Do not share eye medicine.
- Do not share
towels, bed linens, pillows, or handkerchiefs. Use clean linens, towels, and
washcloths each day.
Some schools ask that children with pinkeye be kept
at home until they are better or have started antibiotic treatment.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Actionsets are designed to help people take an active role in managing a health condition.
- Eye Problems: Using Eyedrops and Eye Ointment
American Optometric Association www.aoa.org
- Eye Problems: Using Eyedrops and Eye Ointment
Other Works Consulted
Epling J (2007). Bacterial conjunctivitis, search date January 2007. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence. Available online: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
Garcia-Ferrer FJ, et al. (2008). Conjunctiva. In P Riordan-Eva, JP Whitcher, eds., Vaughan and Asbury's General Ophthalmology, 17th ed., pp. 98–124. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Wright KW (2008). Pediatric "pink eye." In Pediatric Ophthalmology for Primary Care, 3rd ed., pp. 159–187. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.