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How Long Is Pink Eye Contagious? (Timelines & More)

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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.

Viral and bacterial pink eye are the main concerns when discussing contagion. Mild forms might resolve on their own, but for moderate to severe cases, a visit to your eye doctor for diagnosis and prescription is advised.

How Long is Each Type of Pink Eye Contagious?

Type of Pink EyeContagious DurationNotes
Viral7-14 daysCan be longer in severe cases
BacterialUp to 10 daysNot contagious after 24 hours on antibiotics
AllergicNot contagiousCaused by allergens like pollen, not infections
ChemicalNot contagiousResult of eye irritants

Viral Pink Eye typically remains contagious for a span of 7 to 14 days. It often starts in one eye and can spread to the other, accompanying symptoms of a cold or respiratory infection. Given its highly contagious nature, it spreads through direct or indirect contact with the eye secretions of someone who’s infected. This can also include respiratory droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze. Some severe cases, particularly those triggered by the herpes virus or other specific strains, might persist for up to 2-3 weeks. Even if the immediate discomfort or redness diminishes, the contagious nature remains steadfast until the eye fully recovers.

On the other hand, Bacterial Pink Eye has a contagion duration of up to 10 days. This form of conjunctivitis often manifests with a notable amount of thick, yellow-green discharge. In some instances, this discharge can be so copious that it causes the eyelids to stick together upon waking. It primarily spreads through direct contact with infected hands or objects that have been in contact with an infected eye. It’s noteworthy to mention that after starting antibiotic treatment, the contagion risk drastically reduces after 24 hours. However, achieving full recovery and cessation of symptoms can extend up to 10 days. It’s pivotal to complete the entire antibiotic course as prescribed to ensure the bacteria is completely eradicated.

For both these types of pink eye, if symptoms such as watery eyes or thick discharge persist, it indicates that the risk of transmission remains active. Recovery generally occurs within a 2-week timeframe. However, if symptoms persist or intensify, it’s advisable to seek medical attention to rule out complications or other eye conditions.

When Can You Assume You Are No Longer Contagious?

The typical conjunctivitis incubation period is one day to three days, which is its active infection period.

Generally, pink eye will remain contagious for as long as your eyes remain watery or have thick discharge (matted eyes). You should see improvements in the symptoms within three to seven days.

If you have bacterial pink eye, the infection lasts for three to five days and two to three weeks for the more potent viral conjunctivitis strain. Once you’re past these allocated days and have no visible symptoms, it’s safe to assume you’re not contagious.

All the conjunctivitis variants’ symptoms will usually go away on their own within two weeks. If they don’t slow down and disappear within this period, you must see an ophthalmologist.

Alternatively, consult a doctor for a diagnosis of your disease. That’s because not all types of pink eye are contagious, so it would be wrong to assume that you are contagious in all the instances you’re displaying pink eye symptoms.

If you have bacterial and viral infections of the disease, then yes, you should assume you’re contagious during the active period.

On the other hand, if you have allergic or chemical conjunctivitis, then you’re not contagious at any point.

Can You Shorten the Time You’re Contagious?

The objective when treating pink eye is not just relief from symptoms but also to reduce the infectious period. Here’s how you might potentially achieve that:

  1. Antibiotic Treatment for Bacterial Pink Eye: The primary way to reduce the duration of contagiousness for bacterial conjunctivitis is through antibiotic eye drops or ointments prescribed by a doctor. Once started, bacterial conjunctivitis typically becomes non-contagious within 24 hours of using these medications. Always complete the full course of antibiotics to ensure effective treatment.
  2. Antiviral Medications for Certain Viral Infections: Some severe forms of viral conjunctivitis, like those caused by the herpes virus, can be treated with antiviral medications. This can shorten the duration of the infection.
  3. Warm or Cold Compresses: Depending on the cause (viral or bacterial), compresses can soothe the eye and potentially reduce the severity and duration of the symptoms. Make sure to use a clean cloth for each application and do not use the same cloth on both eyes.
  4. Over-the-counter (OTC) Medications: Some OTC eye drops can help alleviate symptoms and, in turn, may contribute to a reduced contagious period. While they don’t treat the root cause, alleviating symptoms can sometimes help the body’s natural defenses work more efficiently.
  5. Limit Use of Contact Lenses: If you wear contacts, switch to glasses temporarily. Contacts can irritate the infected eye and possibly prolong the infection.
  6. Seek Early Medical Intervention: As with many health conditions, early diagnosis and treatment can lead to faster recovery. If you believe you have pink eye, consult a healthcare professional promptly to get appropriate guidance.

While these interventions might help, it’s essential to understand that the body’s natural healing process also plays a significant role. Always follow medical advice and be attentive to the needs of your eyes during recovery.

Slow the Spread of Pink Eye & 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.

Those with chemical or allergic pink eye can rest a little easier: they are not infectious and cannot spread. Even so, take the following precautions to avoid reinfection once the disease clears:

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.
  • Clean all eyeglasses and extended wear lenses used during the infection
  • Dispose of any eye and facial makeup used in the course of the infection
  • Get rid of and replace disposable eye contacts and contact lens solutions used throughout the disease
  • 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.


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  10. Conjunctivitis: What Is Pink Eye? (July 20, 2021). American Academy of Ophthalmology.
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