Pinkeye (also called conjunctivitis) is redness and swelling of the conjunctiva, the mucous membrane that lines the eyelid and eye surface. The lining of the eye is usually clear. If irritation or infection occurs, the lining becomes red and swollen.  Pinkeye is very common. It usually is not serious and goes away in 7 to 10 days without medical treatment.  It can be caused by viruses, bacteria, irritants and allergies.  Most cases of pinkeye are caused by infections caused by viruses or bacteria.  Viral and bacterial pinkeye are contagious and spread very easily.  Since most pinkeye is easily transmitted, preventing its spread is important.  Poor hand-washing is the main cause of the spread of pinkeye.  Sharing an object, such as a washcloth/towel or makeup with a person who has pinkeye can spread the infection.

Symptoms of pinkeye include redness in the white of the eye, swelling of the eyelids, itching or burning feeling of the eyelids, swollen and tender areas in front of the ears, excessive tearing and clear or slightly thick, whitish drainage.  Other symptoms include thick yellow discharge that crusts over the eyelashes, especially after sleep, green or white discharge from the eye, blurred vision and increased sensitivity to light.

Viral pinkeye is often caused by an adenovirus, which is a common respiratory virus that can also cause a sore throat or upper respiratory infection. The herpes virus can also cause viral pinkeye.  Viral pinkeye symptoms usually last 5 to 7 days but may last up to 3 weeks and can become ongoing or chronic.  Just as a cold must run its course, so must this form of pinkeye, which usually lasts from four to seven days.  If the pinkeye is caused by a virus, the person can usually return to day care, school, or work when symptoms begin to improve, typically in 3 to 5 days.

Pinkeye caused by bacteria, including those related to STDs, is treated with antibiotics, in the form of eye drops, ointments, or pills.  Eye drops or ointments may need to be applied to the inside of the eyelid three to four times a day for five to seven days.  Pills may need to be taken for several days. The infection should improve within a week. Take or use the drugs as instructed by your doctor, even if the symptoms go away.

For pinkeye caused by an irritating substance, use water to wash the substance from the eye for five minutes. Your eyes should begin to improve within four hours. If the conjunctivitis is caused by acid or alkaline material such as bleach, immediately rinse the eyes with lots of water and call your doctor immediately.

Allergy-associated conjunctivitis should improve once the allergy is treated and the allergen removed. See your doctor if you have conjunctivitis that is linked to an allergy.

To help relieve the discomfort of pink eye, apply a warm compress for 5 to 10 minutes, three to four times a day. There are also eye drops to relieve the itching or burning associated with pink eye.  Preventing the spread of pink eye is very important as reinfection can occur if you are not careful.  Never use eye droppers from an infected eye on an uninfected eye and throw away any unused eye drops once the infection has cleared.  Discard any eye make-up and contact lenses used as well.