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Pinkeye (Conjunctivitis)

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Feb 15, 2024.

Harvard Health Publishing


What is Pinkeye (Conjunctivitis)?

Conjunctivitis, also called pinkeye, is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the transparent membrane that lines the eyelids and covers the whites of the eyes. Conjunctivitis can be triggered by allergies, by contact with irritating chemicals, or by infections with either a virus or bacteria.


Pinkeye (Conjunctivitis)
Image: dtimiraos/Getty Images


Symptoms of conjunctivitis include:

If it's viral conjunctivitis, this eye discharge tends to be thin, clear and watery. The eye discharge from bacterial conjunctivitis it is often thick, discolored (yellow or greenish), cloudy and sticky. Sometimes, the discharge is so sticky that the eyelids stick to one another. This is most likely to happen after waking up from sleep. With allergic conjunctivitis, both eyes usually are involved, itching is more intense and the eyes may swell.

If you wear contact lenses, you are more likely to develop severe conjunctivitis, which can damage the eye. Stop wearing contact lenses if you develop a red eye. Contact your primary care doctor or an eye doctor immediately if you have any pain.


Your doctor will suspect conjunctivitis if you have an itchy, red eye with a discharge or increased tearing. If your doctor suspects bacterial conjunctivitis, he or she may take a sample of your eye discharge and send it to a laboratory to be tested.

Expected Duration

Even without treatment, most cases of viral conjunctivitis will go away within seven days.

Bacterial conjunctivitis requires antibiotics. Eye redness usually begins to clear up within a couple of days after you start taking antibiotics. Make sure you take all your antibiotics, even if you start to feel better. Otherwise the medicine may not kill all the bacteria.


It is possible to prevent infectious conjunctivitis. Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your eyes. At home, never share towels, washcloths or facial cosmetics with others, especially eye makeup.

To prevent conjunctivitis in newborn babies, all pregnant women should be tested and, if necessary, treated for gonorrhea and chlamydia infections. As another preventive measure, newborns routinely are treated at birth with antibiotic eye drops.


For uncomplicated viral conjunctivitis, your doctor may suggest nonprescription eye drops, which relieve eye symptoms while your body fights off the viral infection.

For bacterial conjunctivitis, you'll need prescription ointment or eye drops containing antibiotics. Use these for as many days as your doctor tells you, even if your symptoms clear up within a day or two. You also can apply warm compresses, such a washcloth, to your eyes for 20- to 30-minute periods, several times a day. Gently wipe away eye discharge and dry, crusty material with a clean, moist cotton ball or tissue.

For allergic conjunctivitis, antihistamine eye drops and cool compresses can help to relieve itching.

Newborns that develop gonorrheal or chlamydial conjunctivitis are treated with antibiotics that can be put on the eye, taken by mouth or injected into a vein, depending on the severity. Their mothers should be examined and treated for gonorrhea or chlamydia infections.

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

When To Call A Professional

Call your doctor if your eyes become red, watery and itchy, especially if there is a thick eye discharge that crusts on your eyelids. Call your doctor immediately if you have pain or swelling in your eyes, or if you develop blurred vision or a high fever or become sensitive to light. Call your doctor immediately whenever an infant, especially a newborn, shows symptoms of conjunctivitis.

If you are taking antibiotics to treat bacterial conjunctivitis, call your doctor if your eye redness continues after three days.


Most cases of uncomplicated viral or bacterial conjunctivitis get better without causing permanent eye damage.

Additional Info

National Eye Institute 

American Academy of Ophthalmology  


Learn more about Pinkeye

Treatment options

Care guides

Further information

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