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.

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.

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.

Pink Eye Is Very Contagious: Take Steps to Stay Healthy

healthy vs conjunctivitisPink 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.

Causes of Pink Eye

If you have pink eye, you may have caught it from someone with the condition. That’s because different forms of bacteria and viruses cause it, some that are highly contagious. You can catch the disease through:

  • Wearing contact lenses that were infected
  • Contact with an infected person, like shaking hands
  • Inhaling droplets from an infected person coughing and sneezing
  • Touching your eyes after coming into contact with an infected person or object

It helps to get a diagnosis straight away if you have conjunctivitis because there are infectious and non-infectious strains of the disease.

If a virus or bacteria caused the infection, you are infectious and can spread the disease if it is in its active state.

How Long Is Pink Eye Contagious? Can It Spread?

Pink eye usually clears away without treatment in seven to 10 days. Symptoms ordinarily begin to lessen after three to five days.

Viral pink eye will normally resolve in seven to 14 days, even without treatment. However, it may take two to three weeks to clear up some severe cases.

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve had it – if you still display the conjunctivitis symptoms, such as discharge and watery eyes, then you are still contagious and should take necessary precautions.

Bacterial pink eye takes up to 10 days to break, even with antibiotics. However, antibiotic treatment of bacterial pink eye will alleviate discomfort and other symptoms within 24 hours.

If you have bacterial pink eye, you are technically not contagious after being on antibiotics for 24 hours.

Several viruses can cause viral pink eye, including herpes virus, common cold, and COVID 19, so they can be highly contagious. That also means viral conjunctivitis has no specific medical treatment.

As with any other contagious condition, you or your child should stay home while battling pink eye. This should help prevent spreading of the infection, especially if you have the infectious pink eye variants.

Slow the Spread of Pink Eye & Your Risk of Reinfection

person washing handsIf 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 the 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.

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.

References

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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.

Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye). (Date retrieved, September 21, 2021). American Optometric Association.

Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye). (Date retrieved, September 21, 2021). Florida Department of Health in Orange County.

Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye) Treatment. (January 4, 2019). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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

Fact Sheet Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye). (Date retrieved, September 21, 2021). Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

My daughter has pink eye. How long is pink eye contagious and when can I send her back to school? (August 31, 2015). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Pink eye: How long is it contagious? (July 11, 2020). Mayo Clinic.

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