Pink eye (conjunctivitis) is redness and swelling of the lining of the eyelid and eye surface. The lining is called the conjunctiva. The lining of the eye is normally clear and colourless.
Pink eye is common. It spreads easily, especially among children in day care centres and schools.
Pink eye is most often caused by a virus. It usually occurs at the same time as or right after you have had a cold. Less commonly, pink eye can be caused by infection with bacteria. Dry air, allergies, smoke, and chemicals can also cause pink eye.
Symptoms of pink eye include:
You may have symptoms in one eye, both eyes, or the symptoms may spread from one eye to the other eye. When pink eye is caused by a virus, symptoms usually start in one eye and may then spread to the other eye.
If you have other symptoms like eye pain or a change in your vision, if you wear contact lenses, or if you have other medical problems, you may have a more serious eye problem. In these cases it is especially important to see a doctor. Young children with pink eye may have an ear infection, so they also need to see a doctor right away.
Because pink eye is often spread from eye to hand to eye, good handwashing is important. Sharing a face cloth, towel, or other item with a person who has pink eye can spread the infection. Follow these tips to help prevent the spread of pink eye:
To decide when you should return to work or school, think about pink eye like you would a cold. Base your decision on how you feel and on whether you might spread pink eye to other people, especially the very young and the very old. Some schools ask that children with pink eye be kept at home until they are better or have started antibiotic treatment.
If your doctor thinks the pink eye is caused by bacteria, he or she may prescribe antibiotic eyedrops or eye ointment to kill the bacteria. With antibiotic treatment, symptoms usually go away in 2 to 3 days.
Antibiotics only work for bacterial pink eye, not for the more common viral pink eye. Viral pink eye often clears on its own in 7 to 10 days. If your symptoms last longer, call your doctor.
If the pink eye is caused by an allergy or chemical, it will not go away until you avoid whatever is causing it.
Home treatment of pink eye symptoms can help you feel more comfortable while the infection goes away.