Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)

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Conjunctivitis can start with an itchy eye that may then become watery and painful. As your eye gets red and puffy, it can be time to seek help from your doctor.

Conjunctivitis, which is commonly known as “pink eye,” is an infection of the conjunctiva, the thin covering of the white part of the eye and the inside of the eyelid. Conjunctivitis is highly contagious and spreads quickly from person to person. It commonly affects young children in daycare and older kids in school.   

The condition is transmitted through contact when someone touches their infected eye, likely rubbing or wiping away discharge, then touching someone else. Or a person may become exposed by touching surfaces like a desk, keyboard or cell phone used by an infected individual.

Types of Conjunctivitis
There are three types of conjunctivitis – viral, bacterial and allergic

Viral conjunctivitis is extremely contagious and may accompany other common viral infections like the measles, chicken pox or the mumps. The incubation period from exposure to onset is between five to 12 days. Symptoms include:

  • Water discharge (tearing)
  • Extreme redness and swelling, usually in one eye
  • Inability to open eye
  • Itchy eyes
  • Light sensitivity
  • Blurred vision or difficulty seeing

Bacterial conjunctivitis can be caused by several common bacteria including Staphylococcus aureus, Haemophilus influenza, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Like conjunctivitis caused by a virus, bacterial conjunctivitis is equally contagious with an incubation period of up to 14 days. Symptoms include:

  • Redness and swelling of eyelids
  • Itchy eyes
  • Yellowish discharge
  • Light sensitivity
  • Pain or burning sensation in eyes

Allergic conjunctivitis is caused by exposure to allergens such as pollen, mold, dust, animal dander, or chemicals like perfume or cleaning agents. The symptoms are similar to those for viral and bacterial conjunctivitis, but it is not contagious.

Treatment for Conjunctivitis
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a doctor can prescribe an anti-viral medication to treat viral conjunctivitis. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses. Without treatment, the infection may clear up within about two weeks – and in some cases as long as three weeks.

For a bacterial infection, an antibiotic may be prescribed as eye drops or an ointment. Treatment with antibiotics can reduce the likelihood the infection would be spread to others, shorten the duration and lessen the risk of complications. It can take between five days to two weeks to resolve without treatment.



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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Merck Manual

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