Pink eye is the common term for conjunctivitis. This condition infects your sclera and eyelids, leading to redness, itching, discharge, and pain. The most common causes are bacteria and viruses, which are contagious. (Learn More)

Viral pink eye is contagious for between 7 and 14 days, while bacterial pink eye is contagious for 10 days on average. Moderate or severe forms of both diseases benefit from your eye doctor’s help via a diagnosis and prescription medications. (Learn More)

You should thoroughly clean or dispose of anything that came in contact with your eye while you had pink eye, like makeup brushes, towels, pillows, or contact lenses. This can prevent spreading the disease to others or re-infecting yourself. (Learn More)

Pink Eye Is Very Contagious: Take Steps to Stay Healthy

healthy vs conjunctivitis

Pink eye is a term for conjunctivitis, an infection of the white part, or sclera, of your eye. You may also experience symptoms on your eyelid, especially on the inner surface.

Conjunctivitis can cause redness, swelling, itching, and pain. This eye disease will go away, and it is very common, but you should visit your eye doctor for a diagnosis.

Conjunctivitis can come from bacteria, viruses, allergies to pollen or animals, or other eye irritants like chlorinated pools or eye makeup. Pink eye caused by a virus is the most common type.

Both viral and bacterial pink eye are contagious. You must be careful not to re-infect yourself or infect anyone else. You can spread the disease from one eye to the other if you are not careful.

Mild pink eye will not require medication and can be managed with home treatments. Moderate or severe forms of pink eye will benefit from prescription eye drops to help your eyes heal faster and prevent damage to your vision.

How Long Is Pink Eye Contagious? Can It Spread?

If you get pink eye, you may have caught it from someone who has pink eye. Viral and bacterial forms of this eye disease are common and easy to spread. Other ways you may get pink eye include:

  • Having a respiratory infection, like the flu or a cold, recently and spreading the disease to your eyes.
  • Wearing contact lenses, which became infected.
  • Having an allergic reaction to particles.

Pink eye usually goes away on its own in 7 to 10 days. Symptoms should begin to lessen after three days. Viral pink eye typically clears up without treatment in 7 to 14 days.

Bacterial pink eye requires 10 days minimum to go away, even with antibiotics. However, antibiotic treatment of bacterial pink eye will begin to alleviate discomfort and other symptoms within 24 hours.

Viral pink eye is most often caused by a herpes virus, so there is no specific medical treatment unless you have a history of frequent conjunctivitis. If you do have this history, your eye doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication to suppress the virus and ease your symptoms.

If you have serious symptoms, you should visit your doctor for a diagnosis and any needed prescriptions to reduce damage to your vision. Symptoms indicating you need your eye doctor’s help include:

  • Your eye hurts a lot.
  • Your eye is very red, not just pink or appearing irritated.
  • You have a lot of discharge or mucus coming from your eye.
  • Your vision is suddenly blurry.
  • You are sensitive to light.
  • Your symptoms do not get better in a few days, or they get worse over a few days.
  • You have a health condition that weakens your immune system.
  • You recently scratched your eye, or you wear contact lenses.

As with other contagious conditions like the flu or a cold, you or your child should stay home while you have pink eye, to prevent spreading the infection as much as possible. Like these other viral illnesses, conjunctivitis takes about a week to clear up, and it can benefit from some medications or home remedies.

If you have bacterial pink eye, you are generally not considered contagious after you have been on antibiotics for 24 hours.

If your eyes are watery or have thick discharge, this is a sign that you are still contagious. If this does not slow down after a few days or go away in less than a week, you must see a doctor.

Reduce Spread of the Disease & Your Risk of Reinfection

person washing hands

If you have moderate or severe pink eye, medications from your eye doctor will help to reduce your symptoms and clear up the illness faster. Mild pink eye benefits only from waiting, using cold compresses, and taking steps not to infect yourself again.

Follow these steps to keep yourself and others clear of pink eye:

  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid touching or rubbing your eyes.
  • Throw away contact lenses if you develop pink eye.
  • After you clean your hands, use a clean cloth to wash away any crust or tears that have accumulated around your eyes several times a day. This can prevent the disease from spreading.
  • Use a different dispenser for over-the-counter eye drops after pink eye heals.
  • Cleanse glasses with a clean cloth.
  • Clean or throw away contact lens cases.
  • Avoid wiping your face with towels that others might share.
  • Do not share personal items that come in contact with your face, like makeup brushes or pillowcases.
  • Get rid of, or thoroughly clean with alcohol, all items that meet your eyes, like makeup brushes, washcloths, and towels.
  • Do not go to public pools while you have pink eye.

Typically, if you develop pink eye in one eye, it will spread to the other. This is a common sign of viral pink eye. Bacterial pink eye will also often appear in both eyes.

Give your eyes time to heal, take medications as needed, and be cautious about any items that meet your eyes after the illness clears up. If you are conscious about touching your eyes and other objects, and wash your hands frequently, you can often limit the spread of pink eye.

You should also warn your coworkers if you develop pink eye. If your child develops pink eye, inform their teachers, school administrators, and parents of children who may have interacted with your child. This allows everyone to take precautions and monitor themselves for pink eye.

Prompt treatment with antibiotics can limit the progression and lessen the duration of bacterial pink eye. See a doctor as soon as you notice the symptoms.

 

References

Pink Eye. (August 2019). National Eye Institute (NEI).

Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye). (January 2010). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

How Long Are You Contagious With Pink Eye? (April 2018). Medical News Today.

My Daughter Has Pink Eye. How Long Is Pink Eye Contagious and When Can I Send Her Back to School? (August 2015). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Preventing the Spread of Conjunctivitis. (January 2019). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Pinkeye (Conjunctivitis). (June 2017). TeensHealth.

Conjunctivitis: What Is Pink Eye? (August 2019). American Academy of Ophthalmology.