Pinkeye (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 becomes red and swollen. See pictures of a normal
eye and an eye with
Pinkeye is very common. It
usually is not serious and goes away in 7 to 10 days without medical
Most cases of pinkeye are caused by:
Viral and bacterial pinkeye are contagious and spread very
easily. Since most pinkeye is caused by viruses for which there is usually no
medical treatment, preventing its spread is important. Poor hand-washing is the
main cause of the spread of pinkeye. Sharing an object, such as a washcloth or
towel, with a person who has pinkeye can spread the infection. For more information, see Prevention.
Viral pinkeye 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 pinkeye.
Symptoms of viral pinkeye include:
- Redness in the white of the eye.
Swelling of the eyelids.
- Itching or burning feeling of the
- Swollen and tender areas in front of the
- A lot of tearing.
- Clear or slightly thick,
Viral pinkeye symptoms usually last 5 to 7 days but may last up to
3 weeks and can become ongoing or chronic.
Pinkeye may be more serious if you:
- Have a condition that decreases your body's
ability to fight infection (impaired immune system).
- Have vision in only one eye.
- Wear contact
If the pinkeye is caused by a
virus, the person can usually return to day care,
school, or work when symptoms begin to improve, typically in 3 to 5 days.
Medicines are not usually used to treat viral pinkeye, so it is important to
prevent the spread of the infection. Pinkeye caused by a herpes virus, which is
rare, can be treated with an antiviral medicine. Home treatment of viral
pinkeye symptoms can help you feel more comfortable while the infection goes
An infection may develop when bacteria enter the eye or the area
around the eye. Some common infections that cause pinkeye include:
Symptoms of bacterial pinkeye include:
- Redness in the white of the
- Gray or yellow drainage from the eye. This drainage may cause
the eyelashes to stick together.
- Mild pain.
- Swelling of the upper eyelid, which may make the lid
appear to droop (pseudoptosis).
Bacterial pinkeye may cause more drainage than viral pinkeye.
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 day care,
school, or work 24 hours after an
antibiotic has been started if symptoms have improved.
Prescription antibiotic treatment usually kills the bacteria that cause
Red eye is a more
general term that includes not only pinkeye but also many other problems that
cause redness on or around the eye, not just the lining. Pinkeye is the main
cause of red eye. Red eye has other causes, including:
- Foreign bodies, such as metal or insects. For
more information, see the topic
Objects in the Eye.
- Scrapes, sores, or
injury to or infection of deeper parts of the eye (for example, uveitis,
iritis, or keratitis). For more information, see the topic
- Glaucoma. For more information, see the topics
Eye Problems, Noninjury and
- Infection of the eye socket and
areas around the eye. For more information, see the topic
Eye Problems, Noninjury.
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). For more
information, see the topics
Styes and Chalazia and
Eyelid Problems (Blepharitis).
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a