Is Conjunctivitis Contagious?

by Dec 19, 2022

Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, occurs when the white of the eye becomes inflamed and turns red or pink. There are three common possible causes of pink eye: a viral infection, a bacterial infection, and an allergic reaction. If pink eye is caused by a viral infection or bacterial infection, it is contagious and should be treated cautiously to avoid spreading the infection to the other eye or another person.

What is the Conjunctiva?

The conjunctiva is the mucus membrane that covers the white part of the eyes. It is responsible for the immune response in the eyes and has lots of blood vessels within it.

These blood vessels can become swollen and result in the eye appearing a bloodshot red or pink color instead of white.

The conjunctiva does not cover the cornea, which is the central clear part of the eye that is in front of the iris and pupil.

Causes of Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis occurs when something causes the conjunctiva to become very inflamed and swollen.

The main causes of conjunctivitis are infection from a virus, an infection of bacteria, or an allergic response

No matter the cause of the pink eye, the outcome is similar: the eye is diffusely red or pink, there is watery or mucus discharge, vision may be slightly blurred, and the outside eyelids are notably not affected.

Conjunctivitis from a Viral Infection

The classic thought of pink eye is generally one that is caused by a viral infection.

This type of conjunctivitis is highly contagious and typically spreads through known transmission such as in a classroom at an elementary school.

Viral conjunctivitis is usually caused by a respiratory virus called adenovirus. When adenovirus infects the upper respiratory system, it can cause cold or cold-like symptoms.

It is not unusual for someone to have a cold for a few days and then once the respiratory systems subside, develop viral conjunctivitis from the same virus.

There are very few treatments available for viral conjunctivitis. The best options include using artificial tears for comfort in the affected eyes and taking extra steps to prevent the spread of the virus.

These steps include staying home from school or work until the contagious stage has passed, washing linens regularly to prevent re-infection, and not sharing any makeup or anything that comes in contact with the eyes.

Conjunctivitis from a Bacterial Infection

While a viral infection causes pink eye in adults and school-aged children, young children are more susceptible to a bacterial infection.

This can lead to a condition called bacterial conjunctivitis. Like viral conjunctivitis, this is highly contagious, and the same precautions should be taken.

However, there are many effective antibiotic eye drops to help speed up the recovery process from a bacterial infection.

Conjunctivitis from an Allergic Reaction

Unlike viral and bacterial conjunctivitis, allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious and does not have an infectious origin.

Instead, this type of pink eye results from the eye overreacting to normal environmental stimuli like dust, pollen, or smoke.

If allergies are the cause of conjunctivitis, there are many over-the-counter eye drops that effectively reduce the symptoms of redness and itching associated with allergic conjunctivitis.

Among these drops are Pataday, Lastacaft, and Alaway. These eye drops will need to be used for several days before true relief is achieved but can then be used as a preventative option.


Our eye doctors at EyeDocs Family Eye Care in Brookville, OH excel in the prescription of glasses, contact lenses and the diagnosis of a variety of eye diseases. Call our optometrists at 937-770-1265 or schedule an eye exam appointment online if you would like to learn more about conjunctivitis. Our eye doctors, Dr. Kyle Maxam and Dr. Cara Wampler provide the highest quality optometry services and eye exams in Brookville, Ohio.

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