Viral Pink Eye: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention


Although viral “pink eye” sounds terrifying, it’s one of the most common and easily treated eye conditions in children and adults. Also referred to as conjunctivitis, pink eye is the redness and inflammation of the conjunctiva, or the thin, clear mucous membrane that lines the eyelid and surface of the eye. While conjunctivitis can have several causes, it’s most often viral in nature; therefore, many cases of pink eye are highly contagious. In some cases, chemicals, dry eyes, and allergies can cause the condition. Typically pink eye goes away on its own in 7-10 days without medical treatment.


It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the primary symptom of viral pink eye is an eye that is pink in appearance. Other symptoms of viral pink eye include swelling of the eyelids, itching or burning, swollen and tender areas in front of the ears, a lot of tearing, and a clear or slightly thick, white drainage. Viral pink eye symptoms typically clear up within seven days but, in some cases, can last up to three weeks. If you or a family member has viral pink eye, day care, school, and work should be avoided for a few days, or until symptoms begin to improve. Since medication isn’t used to treat pink eye, it’s important to help prevent the spread of pink eye to your friends and family.

If you have an impaired immune system, have vision in only one eye, or are a contact lens wearer, your pink eye could be more serious.


The majority of viral pink eye cases can be treated at home, without the guidance of a doctor or medical professional. Essentially, home treatment for pink eye is intended to reduce your pain and keep your eye free of drainage until the condition has enough time to clear up on its own. If you wear contacts, remove them and switch to glasses for the duration of your pink eye infection. Use cold compresses or warm compresses to soothe your eyes and reduce redness and swelling. Since warm, moist compresses can spread infection from one eye to the other, use a different compress for each eye.

When clearing your eye of drainage, be sure to wipe from your nose to the outer area of your eyes – this ensures that the drainage is being swept away instead of being rubbed back across the eye. If you use tissues or wipes, throw them away immediately. If you use a washcloth or towel, put them in the laundry hamper right away to avoid contamination. After wiping or touching your eyes, always be sure to wash your hands to prevent pink eye from spreading throughout your household.


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Viral pink eye is caused through coming in contact with the eye drainage. In order to help prevent the spread of pink eye, here’s some tips:

  • Never share personal items such as washcloths, towels, or tissues.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing.
  • Wash your hands frequently, particularly before and after touching your eyes.
  • Do not share eye makeup, or use makeup until your infection is fully cured.
  • Do not share contact lenses or contact lens equipment, containers, or solution.
  • Before showering, swimming, or using a hot tub, remove your lenses.