Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye) - Minnesota Dept. of Health

Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)

Conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink eye, is an inflammation of the thin transparent layer of tissue that lines the inner surface of the eyelid and covers the white part of the eye. This leads to redness and soreness of the eye, often caused by viruses or allergies. Other causes of conjunctivitis include bacterial infections and irritation from chemicals.

On this page:
Viral Conjunctivitis
Bacterial Conjunctivitis
When to Seek Medical Attention
Recommendations for School and Child Care Exclusions
Additional Resources

Viral Conjunctivitis

Viral conjunctivitis is most commonly caused by contagious viruses associated with the common cold, but typical cold symptoms are not always present. Most viruses that cause conjunctivitis spread through hand-to-eye contact by hands or objects that are contaminated with the virus.

Antibiotics will not cure or help viral conjunctivitis. Like a common cold, the virus has to run its course, which can take up to two or three weeks. Symptoms can often be relieved with warm or cool compresses and artificial tear solutions.

Common Symptoms

  • Redness of eye(s)
  • Watery eye discharge that may crust around eyelids
  • Burning or gritty feeling in eye
  • May initially involve only one eye; often spreads to other eye in 1-2 days
  • Symptoms usually get worse over the first 3-5 days then gradually improve

Bacterial Conjunctivitis

Bacterial conjunctivitis is an infection most often caused by a variety of organisms, including Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, Haemophilus, and Moraxella bacteria. It can spread from person to person, from hand-to-eye contact, or via eye contact with contaminated objects.

Health care providers might prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointments for bacterial conjunctivitis to help shorten the length of infection.

Common Symptoms

  • Redness of eye(s) and/or eyelid(s)
  • Thick white, yellow, or green eye discharge throughout the day

When to Seek Medical Attention

The following groups of people should seek medical care for any symptoms of conjunctivitis:

  • Infants (four weeks old or younger)
  • Persons who wear contact lenses who have continued symptoms 12-24 hours after removing the contacts
  • Persons with weakened immune systems

All other people should seek care when any of the following symptoms are present:

  • Eye pain
  • Reduced or blurry vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Inability or refusal to open eyelid
  • Severe headache or nausea
  • Recent trauma to the eye
  • Symptoms that get worse or do not improve within 24 hours after starting an antibiotic for suspected bacterial conjunctivitis

Recommendations for School or Child Care Exclusions

No exclusions are recommended, unless the child has a fever or is not healthy enough to participate in routine activities. Antibiotics or a note from a health care provider are not required. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends considering conjunctivitis like the common cold – both diseases are easily spread among children and both resolve without treatment.

Additional Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

American Academy of Pediatrics

Hennepin County

Updated Thursday, 29-Sep-2022 16:07:14 CDT