Conjunctivitis ("Pink Eye") Basics

Conjunctivitis is an eye infection that may cause redness and discharge from the eye, sometimes with pain or itching.  It is often called “pink eye” because it can cause the white of the eye to become pink or red. 

Conjunctivitis is most commonly caused by bacteria, viruses, or allergens. Conjunctivitis caused by allergens is not contagious; however, viral or bacterial conjunctivitis can easily spread from person to person.  A healthcare professional should make this determination.

Prevent the spread of infectious conjunctivitis:

  • Do not touch or rub your eyes. If your eyes itch or burn, use a tissue to wipe drainage; put the used tissue in the trash, and clean your hands.
  • Clean your hands frequently with soap and water.  Use a waterless, alcohol-based hand rub if hands are not visibly soiled.
  • Avoid sharing towels, washcloths, pillows, and blankets.  Launder pillowcases, sheets, towels, and washcloths in hot water and detergent; wash hands after handling such items.
  • Do not share eye make-up, face make-up, make-up brushes, contact lenses and containers, or eyeglasses. Do not share eye drops, contact lens solution or any medications.  Do not use the same eye drop dispenser/bottle for infected and non-infected eyes – even for the same person.
  • Do not wear contact lenses while your eyes are red or draining.
    • Discard contact lens solution, disposable contact lenses, and cases used before or during your eye illness.
    • Disinfect extended wear contact lenses before resuming use.
  • Exclusion from childcare and school:
    • Children with conjunctivitis should be allowed to remain in childcare and school once examined by a healthcare professional and any indicated therapy has been started, unless conjunctivitis is accompanied by systemic signs of infection like fever or rash.  Exclusion may be considered if the child is unable to keep hands away from eyes.
  • Additional steps you should take:
    • Do not use swimming pools.
    • Wear sunglasses if light bothers your eyes.
    • Do not operate machinery if your vision is blurred.

When to seek medical care:

  • Conjunctivitis is accompanied by moderate to severe eye pain.
  • Conjunctivitis is accompanied by vision problems, such as sensitivity to light or blurred vision, which does not improve when any discharge that is present is wiped from the eye(s).
  • Conjunctivitis is accompanied by intense redness of the eye(s).
  • Conjunctivitis symptoms become worse or persist
  • Conjunctivitis occurs in a person who is immunocompromised (has a weakened immune system) from HIV infection, cancer treatment, or other medical conditions or treatments.
  • Antibiotics have been prescribed for bacterial conjunctivitis and the infection does not begin to improve after 24 hours of treatment.

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Updated Friday, April 18, 2014 at 12:11PM