This Is How Long You're Contagious When You Have Pink Eye

Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is a common eye infection in which the conjunctiva (the clear tissue that lines the eyelids and covers the white part of the eyeball) becomes inflamed (via Mayo Clinic). This causes the telltale reddish or pink appearance associated with the infection. Pink eye is usually caused by a bacterial or viral infection or by an allergic reaction. It can also be caused by sexually transmitted infections, such as herpes simplex, gonorrhea, or chlamydia or a foreign object or substance that irritates the eye (via Cleveland Clinic). In babies, pink eye can be the result of a blocked or incompletely opened tear duct.

Conjunctivitis caused by a bacterial or viral infection is very contagious. Pink eye is contagious as long as you are experiencing symptoms of tearing and discharge (via Healthline). Conjunctivitis usually clears up on its own within one to two weeks, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

If pink eye is caused by a bacterial infection, your doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics in the form of eye drops, ointments, or tablets. Antibiotics will not help a viral infection so treatment focuses more on symptom management, including using over-the-counter eye drops, cleaning eyelids with a wet cloth, and applying hot or cold compresses to the affected eye.

How to prevent pink eye from spreading

Pink eye caused by a bacterial or viral infection can be spread from person to person through close contact, such as hugging, kissing, or a handshake. Additionally, bacteria and viruses can survive on surfaces for varying lengths of time so if you touch a contaminated surface and then touch your eye, you could pick up the infection.

In order to prevent the spread of pink eye, follow good hygiene practices. This includes avoiding touching or rubbing the affected eye, washing your hands frequently with soap and water, especially after using eye drops or other medication to treat conjunctivitis, and washing discharge from your eye with a clean cotton ball (and throwing it away immediately after). Don't share personal items like makeup, towels, cups, or contact lenses with others.

If you have a viral infection causing pink eye, your doctor may recommend staying home from work until you are no longer contagious. If you have a bacterial infection and have been prescribed antibiotics, you're typically less likely to spread the infection after 24 hours of starting the medication.