Skip to main content


Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 1, 2023.

What is conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, is inflammation of your conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is a thin tissue that covers the front of your eye and the back of your eyelids. The conjunctiva helps protect your eye and keep it moist.


What causes conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis is easily spread from person to person. The most common cause of conjunctivitis is infection with bacteria or a virus. This often happens when bacteria gets into your eye. This can happen when you touch your eye or wear contact lenses. Allergies are also a common cause of conjunctivitis. The cells in your conjunctiva can react to an allergen. Some examples of allergens include grass, dust, animal fur, or mascara.

What are the signs and symptoms of conjunctivitis?

You will usually have symptoms in both eyes if your conjunctivitis is caused by allergies. You may also have other allergic symptoms, such as a rash or runny nose. Symptoms will usually start in 1 eye if your conjunctivitis is caused by a virus or bacteria. You may also have other symptoms of an infection, such as sore throat and fever. You may have any of the following:

  • Redness in the whites of your eye
  • Itching in your eye or around your eye
  • Feeling like there is something in your eye
  • Watery or thick, sticky discharge
  • Crusty eyelids when you wake up in the morning
  • Burning, stinging, or swelling in your eye
  • Pain when you see bright light

How is conjunctivitis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history. The provider will ask if you have been around anyone who is sick or has pink eye. The provider will ask if you have allergies. Tell your provider if you wear contact lenses. You may need any of the following:

  • An eye exam will be done by your provider. Your provider will look at your eyes, eyelids, eyelashes, and the skin around your eyes. You will be asked to look in different directions. Your provider may gently press on your eye or eyelid to see if there is drainage. Your provider will also look for redness and swelling in your eyelids or conjunctiva. Your provider may gently swab your conjunctiva with a cotton swab and send it to the lab for tests. This will help your provider find out what is causing your conjunctivitis.
  • A slit-lamp microscope is a special microscope with a bright light used to look into your eye. Your provider will look for signs of infection or inflammation. This microscope also helps your provider see if the different parts of your eyes are healthy.

How is conjunctivitis treated?

Your conjunctivitis may go away on its own. Treatment depends on what is causing your conjunctivitis. You may need any of the following:

  • Allergy medicine helps decrease itchy, red, swollen eyes caused by allergies. It may be given as a pill, eye drops, or nasal spray.
  • Antibiotics may be needed if your conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria. This medicine may be given as a pill, eye drops, or eye ointment.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Apply a cool compress. Wet a washcloth with cold water and place it on your eye. This will help decrease itching and irritation.
  • Do not wear contact lenses. They can irritate your eye. Throw away the pair you are using and ask when you can wear them again. Use a new pair of lenses when your provider says it is okay.
  • Avoid irritants. Stay away from smoke filled areas. Shield your eyes from wind and sun.
  • Flush your eye. You may need to flush your eye with saline to help decrease your symptoms. Ask for more information on how to flush your eye.

How do I prevent the spread of conjunctivitis?

  • Wash your hands with soap and water often. Wash your hands before and after you touch your eyes. Also wash your hands before you prepare or eat food and after you use the bathroom or change a diaper.
  • Avoid allergens. Try to avoid the things that cause your allergies, such as pets, dust, or grass.
  • Avoid contact with others. Do not share towels or washcloths. Try to stay away from others as much as possible. Ask when you can return to work or school.
  • Throw away eye makeup. The bacteria that caused your conjunctivitis can stay in eye makeup. Throw away your current mascara and other eye makeup. Never share mascara or other eye makeup with anyone.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have worsening eye pain.
  • The swelling in your eye gets worse, even after treatment.
  • Your vision suddenly becomes worse or you cannot see at all.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You develop a fever and ear pain.
  • You have tiny bumps or spots of blood on your eye.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© Copyright Merative 2023 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes.

Learn more about Conjunctivitis

Treatment options

Symptoms and treatments

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.