What is conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin, clear tissue that lies over the white part of the eye and lines the inside of the eyelid. It is often referred to as "pink eye". Conjunctivitis has a number of different causes, including viral, allergic, irritants and bacteria.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of conjunctivitis differ based on the cause, but may include:

  • Redness in the white of the eye or inner eyelid
  • Itching and/or burning of the eye
  • Increased amount of tears
  • Thick yellow discharge that crusts over the eyelashes, especially after sleep
  • Green or white discharge from the eye
  • Swelling around the eye

How is it treated?

See your doctor if you have any symptoms of conjunctivitis. He or she may take a sample of fluid from the eyelid using a cotton swab to be analyzed. Conjunctivitis caused by bacteria can be treated with antibiotics, in the form of eye drops, ointments, or pills. Take the medicine as instructed by your doctor, even if the symptoms of conjunctivitis go away. If the conjunctivitis is caused by a virus, antibiotics will not be effective. Most people recover with supportive treatment that includes rest, drinking plenty of fluids and over-the-counter medications to reduce discomfort. Just as a cold must run its course, so must this form of conjunctivitis, which usually lasts from 4 to 7 days.

How do people catch this disease?

Bacterial and viral conjunctivitis are very contagious. They are easily spread by coming into contact with discharge from the eye of someone with the condition. A person with the condition will rub their eye to ease the discomfort and then touch a book or a toy or a door knob.

What can be done to stop the spread of this disease?

Proper hygiene and frequent hand-washing will reduce the risk of transmission. If someone in your household or classroom has conjunctivitis, be sure to wash your hands often and thoroughly. Avoid sharing washcloths, towels, pillowcases, mascara or eyeliner with anyone.

When to Seek Medical Care

A health care provider should be seen if:

  • Conjunctivitis is accompanied by moderate to severe pain in the eye(s).


  • 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 in the eye(s).
  • Conjunctivitis symptoms become worse or persist when a patient is suspected of having a severe form of viral conjunctivitis—for example, a type caused by herpes simplex virus or varicella-zoster virus (the cause of chickenpox and shingles).
  • Conjunctivitis occurs in a patient who is immunocompromised (has a weakened immune system) from HIV infection, cancer treatment, or other medical conditions or treatments.

Bacterial conjunctivitis is being treated with antibiotics and does not begin to improve after 24 hours of treatment.


Health Infectious Diseases