How long is pink eye contagious

Updated January 6, 2021

Do you have red, watery eyes that just won’t stop itching? If so, you could have pink eye.

Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is redness and swelling of the conjunctiva, the mucous membrane that lines the eyelid and eye surface. Symptoms can include watery, itchy eyes, sticky eye discharge that can cause the eyelids to stick together, and light sensitivity.

There are three kinds of pink eye, and not all types are contagious.

Bacterial Pink Eye

Bacterial pink eye is often caused by exposure to the same bacteria that causes a staph infection or strep throat, according to the National Eye Institute.

Bacterial pink eye is highly contagious and is typically treated with antibiotic eye drops. It can spread to others as soon as symptoms appear, and it remains contagious for as long as symptoms remain, or for about 24 hours after starting a course of antibiotics.

Symptoms of bacterial pink eye include:

  • Puss and mucus discharge
  • Ear infection
  • Pinkness or redness in the whites of the eyes

Prevention of Bacterial Pink Eye

Because it is spread by hand-to-eye contact or eye contact with an infected object, it is important to practice good hygiene by washing hands regularly and wearing goggles when swimming.

If your condition worsens, consider visiting a UPMC Urgent Care location . If you’re unable to visit one of our locations, consider making a UPMC AnywhereCare online appointment.

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Viral Pink Eye

The most common type of pink eye is viral pink eye. Antibiotics don’t work on this, so it usually just must run its course. Viral pink eye is sometimes accompanied by other symptoms, such as a cold or respiratory infection, and it is also highly contagious.

Signs and symptoms of viral pink eye can include:

  • Watery discharge from the eye
  • One infected eye, and the other eye also eventually becomes infected as well
  • Other illness, such as cold, flu, or other respiratory infection

Viral Pink Eye Prevention

Similar to bacterial pink eye, viral pink eye can be spread through hand-to-eye contact or by touching objects that that are contaminated with the virus. To avoid spreading this virus, avoid touching your eyes, but if you do, wash your hands immediately. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), proper handwashing means getting your hands wet first, then lathering with soap. Make sure to scrub your palms, and, if possible, stay home from work or school.

Viral pink eye can take several days to several weeks to clear up, and it can be transmittable to others the entire time.

Allergic and Chemical Pink Eye

Pink eye can also be caused by allergies, wind, sun, smoke, or chemicals (chemical pink eye). For example, someone may experience eye irritation after exposure to animal dander or swimming in a chlorinated pool. These types of pink eye are not contagious.

Pink Eye Risk Factors

Risk factors for pink eye can include:

  • Wearing hard or rigid contact lenses, sharing lenses, or not changing your lenses frequently
  • Touching your eye with unclean hands
  • Using contaminated eye makeup

Treating Pink Eye

Treating pink eye mostly involves making your eyes feel better and making sure you don’t spread the disease. One short-term remedy involves gently cleaning around your eyes with a smooth wet cloth or cotton ball to sooth your eye. Or, lie down with a cold, wet cloth gently draped across your closed eyes.

Avoid wearing eye makeup or contact lenses until your pink eye is gone in order to keep the makeup tools and lenses sterile. Also, do not share pillowcases, towels, or washcloths with others. If your pink eye doesn’t go away or start to feel better after a week, be sure to see your doctor.

Call your doctor if you experience pink eye symptoms. If your condition worsens, consider visiting a UPMC Urgent Care location. If you’re unable to visit one of our locations, consider making a UPMC AnywhereCare online appointment.


About Urgent Care

Sometimes you need care right away, with no time to wait for an appointment. That’s where UPMC Urgent Care comes in. We offer prompt treatment for illnesses and injuries seven days a week, with no appointment necessary. With locations throughout Pennsylvania and Maryland, you can find immediate care close to you – even if your doctor’s office is closed. Our services include treatment for minor injuries and illnesses, physicals, prescription filling, and flu shots and immunizations. Wait times for minor injuries and illnesses are usually shorter than the Emergency Department, and we accept most major insurance. Visit our website to find a location close to you.