Conjunctivitis, or Pink Eye 

with Dr. Melanie Smith

What is conjunctivitis, or pink eye?

Conjunctivitis is inflammation of the thin tissue that covers the eye.  

What causes pink eye?

Conjunctivitis, or “pink eye”, means inflammation along a specific part of the eye (the conjunctiva). It can be caused by infections (bacteria or viruses) or there can be noninfectious causes (allergies, local irritants, trauma, etc). I’ll focus on mostly infectious causes here today.

What are the symptoms of conjunctivitis?

Typically, you’ll see redness along the white portion of the eye. Depending on the cause of conjunctivitis, you may see watery or goopy eye drainage, itching or burning of the eye(s), or light sensitivity. Sometimes, you’ll see both eyes are involved and sometimes just one.

Is conjunctivitis contagious?

Infectious conjunctivitis is contagious, but it may not always require treatment.

What is the difference between viral and bacterial conjunctivitis?

Bacterial conjunctivitis tends to have thicker drainage that increases throughout the day. Viral causes usually start as eye redness and can also have drainage, although the drainage may be clear or goopy. Viral conjunctivitis can often resolve on its own, while true bacterial conjunctivitis requires treatment. Viral causes (and sometimes bacterial) may also be associated with other symptoms (fever, sore throat, etc.). Testing for the type of conjunctivitis is not usually indicated (phew, because that would be unpleasant!); usually your doctor can determine if treatment is recommended based on details and exam findings.

What is the best treatment for conjunctivitis?

An eye that is red but is not uncomfortable or painful can be observed at home for 1-2 days. If your child wears contact lenses, be sure to remove them until symptoms are resolved. If treatment is indicated, prescription eye drops or eye ointment are recommended.

How long does conjunctivitis last?

Depending on the type, symptoms can last a few days OR up to a week or so (if true viral conjunctivitis). If there is no improvement in that time or discomfort occurs, call your pediatrician. Call immediately if light sensitivity occurs or if increased eyelid swelling or redness develops.

Will conjunctivitis affect my vision long term?

Most commonly, no. There is a particular bacteria that can cause vision loss; to decrease this risk in newborn babies, an ointment is applied to their eyes after delivery.

Can I send my child to school with conjunctivitis?

If your child has been diagnosed with bacterial “pink eye” you should keep them home until they have been on appropriate treatment for 24 hours.

How can I lower my risk of getting conjunctivitis again?

Conjunctivitis is spread by direct contact with contaminated objects/secretions, so good hand washing and not sharing items, such as tissues and towels, can help decrease the spread.

Should I see a doctor about conjunctivitis?

If you are concerned that it may be infectious, then yes. If there is minimal eye redness without any other symptoms, you may be able to monitor for a few days to see if it resolves on its own before making an appointment.

Anything else we need to know about conjunctivitis?

In children, sometimes eye drainage can actually be a sign of an ear infection! So keep a close eye (pun intended!), and call or make an appointment if you have any questions or concerns.