• Close up of one annoyed red blood eye of a man affected by conjunctivitis

How Long Is Pink Eye Contagious?

Pink eye (med­ical name: con­junc­tivi­tis) is a com­mon eye infec­tion that affects the sur­face of the eye and the area around it. The viral and bac­te­r­i­al forms spread eas­i­ly, par­tic­u­lar­ly through shar­ing items at work, school, or home.

Almost every­one gets pink eye at least once. Under­stand­ably, they want to know how long does pink eye last? Those who live or work with them ask “how long is pink eye con­ta­gious?”

How Long Will Viral and Bacterial Pink Eye Stay Contagious?

Pink eye caused by virus­es or bac­te­ria spreads eas­i­ly. Hands spread the infec­tion after rub­bing the eyes or wip­ing tears and then touch­ing shared objects like tow­els or key­boards. Sneez­ing or cough­ing can spread viral con­junc­tivi­tis. It’s real­ly best to stay away from home or work when the pink eye appears sud­den­ly, par­tic­u­lar­ly in just one eye (at least ini­tial­ly).

Pink eye is con­ta­gious while the infec­tion is active and with these symp­toms:

  • Red­ness or pink tint around the whites of the eyes (scle­ra)
  • Tears
  • Eye dis­charge (not tears) and crust around the lash­es
  • Swelling around the eyes, par­tic­u­lar­ly the eye­lids
  • Burn­ing or oth­er irri­ta­tion

Prompt med­ical treat­ment clears up the infec­tion. Antibi­otics for bac­te­r­i­al pink­eye gen­er­al­ly halt con­ta­gion after 24 hours, while antivi­rals take 48 hours to a week or even longer to effec­tive­ly end the threat.

How Long Does Pink Eye Last?

Gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, pink eye lasts as long as the symp­toms are present.

Viral con­junc­tivi­tis takes longest to cure. Accord­ing to the Nation­al Eye Insti­tute, some cas­es can take longer than two weeks to ful­ly clear up. Most cas­es of pink eye are caused by ade­n­ovirus­es, that bring upper res­pi­ra­to­ry infec­tion as well, and her­pes virus­es, par­tic­u­lar­ly her­pes sim­plex 1 that first presents as a cold sore.

Mild cas­es of pink eye with few symp­toms can actu­al­ly clear up on their own as the body rids itself of the virus or bac­te­ria. Clean, warm com­press­es, aller­gy eye drops or arti­fi­cial tears, or cold med­ica­tion can help ease symp­toms.

How do you know when pink eye is gone? If all the symp­toms are gone — -and we mean all — it’s safe to say you are over it. You should not, how­ev­er, stop tak­ing med­ica­tions before your doc­tor gives the go-ahead, par­tic­u­lar­ly for viral and bac­te­r­i­al pink eye.

Is This Contagious Pink Eye?

Not all pink eye is con­ta­gious, but it can be tricky for peo­ple around a per­son with a case to be assured of this!

Both aller­gic con­junc­tivi­tis and con­junc­tivi­tis caused by bac­te­ria or virus have sim­i­lar symp­toms that include the tell­tale red or pink tint to the whites of the eyes (scle­ra), eye dis­charge, crust around the eye­lash­es, swollen eye­lids, and itch­i­ness.

A per­son with aller­gic con­junc­tivi­tis will prob­a­bly be affect­ed in both eyes and have oth­er, more typ­i­cal aller­gy symp­toms like sneez­ing and scratchy throat. Their eyes may look red, watery, and itch, but at least they aren’t con­ta­gious and can assure their cowork­ers and house­mates that they won’t pass along the pink eye.

Most of the time, the prob­lem clears up after they remove traces of the aller­gen — often pollen or rag­weed, pet dan­der, dust, mold, cos­met­ics, even con­tact lens solu­tion — through a good long show­er and sham­poo.

Non-con­ta­gious pink eye can also sur­face after eyes are exposed to oth­er irri­tants like chlo­rine in a pool and smog.

Over the counter or pre­scrip­tion med­ica­tion (oral, eye­drops, or both) will help, and they should remove and throw out con­tact lens­es. Their pink eye will clear up quick­ly, per­haps with­in 48 hours, and will not require them to quar­an­tine them­selves.

You only get one set of eyes! To learn more about eye care and eye dis­eases and con­di­tion, be sure to check out our blog.

February 8th, 2019|Comments Off on How Long Is Pink Eye Contagious?

About the Author:

Born in Connecticut and raised in Upstate New York , Dr. Stetson graduated Cum Laude from Colgate University in New York, and then earned an MD degree with honors at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. He distinguished himself again in residency at the Albany Medical Center, where he obtained the highest percentile in the Ophthalmology Knowledge Assessment Examinations. Dr. Stetson has performed more than 50,000 refractive surgeries and has been on staff at Diamond Vision since 2004, before becoming Medical Director in 2006.


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