Pink Eye: Causes, Treatment & Prevention

Pink eye is a fast-spreading uncomfortable, painful illness. Without proper treatment, it could spread to your entire family, school, or work.

In this blog, we’ll review what pink eye is, the causes, and how to treat & prevent it. 

What is Pink Eye? 

Pink eye is also called conjunctivitis. It’s an inflammation that includes reddening or swelling of the thin tissue covering the white part of the eye and the lower eyelid. 

What Causes Pink Eye?

There are several causes and related symptoms of pink eye:

  • Bacterial
    • Red or pink, itchy, painful eye(s)
    • More than a tiny amount of green or yellow discharge
    • Infected eyes may have crust keeping them shut in the morning or upon waking
    • It may affect one or both eyes
  • Viral
    • Pink, swollen, watery eye(s) that are sensitive to light
    • It may affect only one eye
    • At times, it may have tears that are clear or with scant, yellow discharge
  • Allergic
    • Itching, redness, and excessive tears, usually in both eyes
  • Chemical
    • Red, watery eyes, especially after known exposure to spray, pool chemicals, fumes, or other chemical products
  • Immune-mediated
    • Related to a systemic disease such as MIS-C, Graves’ Disease, or Kawasaki’s Disease

How Long Does Pink Eye Last?

The incubation period for pink eye varies depending on the type. The incubation period is the time between exposure to the contagion and when actual symptoms start.

  • Bacterial: the incubation period is generally 2-4 days after exposure. The period when you would not be contagious is 48 hours after starting medication or when symptoms are no longer present.
  • Viral: conjunctivitis can sometimes occur early in the course of a viral upper respiratory infection. Symptoms such as a runny nose and cough with sore throat are common. Antibiotics for this condition do not help or reduce the spread. The contagious period continues while signs or symptoms are present.
  • Allergic: there is no incubation period. The onset is generally an immediate reaction to a trigger that could delay for hours or even days after contact. This type of conjunctivitis is not considered contagious.
  • Chemical conjunctivitis: usually appears shortly after contact with an irritating substance. Examples of this are toxic fumes or pool chemicals. This type of pink eye does not have a contagious period.

Is Pink Eye Contagious? 

Bacterial or viral-originated pink eye is contagious. It spreads by direct contact such as discharge from an infected eye, touching a contaminated surface, or breathing air where someone coughs or sneezes.

Unfortunately, it spreads quickly and both children and adults can be affected. This spreads to both children and adults exposed during the contagious period. 

Adults and/or children with pink eye should stay home and avoid contact with others until they are no longer showing symptoms.

What Should I Do if I Suspect that I or my Child may Have Pink Eye?

First, it’s essential to get a diagnosis and treatment plan immediately

TeamHealth VirtualCare provides you or your child immediate, virtual access to an emergency medicine experienced clinician. You can get a diagnosis and treatment plan online quickly to limit the spread during the incubation and infectious period. 

Then once you have a diagnosis, be sure to use consistent hand washing. Do this before and after touching the eyes, nose, or mouth areas. Additionally,  clean objects that are frequently touched by hands. This includes laptops or iPads, tables, doorknobs, phones, light switches, blankets, and toys.

How Can I Prevent Pink Eye?

The best method for preventing the spread of pink eye is to practice proper hand hygiene. Wash hands thoroughly and frequently. This limits the spread. With proper precautions, a faster return to work or other places outside the home can occur.

Stopping the Spread – Next Steps

Do you or someone in your family have symptoms of pink eye? If so, remember that this disease spreads extremely fast. 

If you need an immediate virtual visit with a clinician, TeamHealth VirtualCare is available 24/7. Use your phone, tablet, or computer to have quick access to a clinician. You can do this from the comfort of your home or a location convenient to you.


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