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)
- 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.