Is Pink Eye Contagious?

Eye drops are often used to remedy the effects of pink eye.
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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 30 July 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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The condition known as pink eye or conjunctivitis is an infection of the eyelids and a protective layer of the eye called the conjunctiva. It can be caused by bacteria that naturally reside in the eyelid, viruses which find their way to the eye area, or natural allergens which trigger an allergic response. Of these three main causes, only bacterial or viral infections are actually considered to be contagious. Conjunctivitis caused by hay fever or other allergic reaction is not generally contagious, but it is not always easy to tell the difference between the three forms.

The most common form of conjunctivitis is bacterial. This is because the eye does not have the usual defense mechanism for destroying harmful bacteria, like those that reside in the roots of eyelashes and along the rims of the eyelids themselves. A natural chemical present in the conjunctiva is supposed to neutralize bacteria, but it is not always successful. When colonies manage to overwhelm the defenses of the conjunctiva, the result is the infection we know as pink eye.

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The bacterial form of pink eye is indeed contagious, and approximately 50% of all the reported cases are bacterial. The treatment is usually some form of antibiotic eye drops and scrupulous hygiene practices until the condition clears up. While the bacterial form is still producing infected fluids, however, the possibility of infecting someone else through casual contact is still present. A classroom full of students or an office full of co-workers could easily be exposed through casual contact with an infected person.

Pink eye can also be triggered by a virus, but this form only accounts for 20% of all cases. Antibiotic eye drops would have little effect on a person with viral conjunctivitis, but there are treatments available that help to neutralize the virus. This form is also very contagious, so the same hygienic protocols should be in place. Patients should avoid direct contact with others, and any medical waste products such as bandages, tissues, and eye droppers should be disposed of properly.

Allergens such as pollen and pollutants such as house dust can trigger a third form of conjunctivitis, which accounts for the remaining 30% of all cases. Treatment of allergen or pollutant-based pink eye is generally part of a larger treatment for the underlying allergy or reaction. The itchy, swollen eyes that often accompany hay fever, for example, would be considered an allergen-based form of conjunctivitis. This form is not contagious, since the excess fluids do not contain either bacteria or viruses, only natural lachrymal fluids and flushed-out irritants.

Although nearly a third of all cases are not considered contagious, it is not easy for an average person to distinguish contagious from non-contagious conjunctivitis. If a schoolmate or co-worker appears to have some form of an active eye infection, it is still best to err on the side of safety and avoid any casual contact or possible transfers from handling communal objects like telephones or toys. When in doubt, people should use antibacterial wipes or disinfectant sprays to prevent the spread of infection. People should avoid touching the face or eyes after coming in contact with anyone who shows signs of an eye infection, with or without accompanying symptoms of a cold or flu.

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Discuss this Article

anon262943
Post 20

My son goes in and out of cold storage a lot. Can this cause pink eye?

anon138885
Post 17

I think I might have pink eye. I have crusts around my eyes when I wake up and a occasional white mucus in the corner of my eye. My eyes aren't watering but they are a pinkish red in the white area. I took allergy medicine and put in eye drops and it's partially cleared and the burning has stopped but I am still concerned. What should I do?

anon106333
Post 16

most cases of bacterial pinkeye (which most of them are) come from rubbing your eyes with your fingers, so knock that off! Afterward, it's best to clean everything you're touch with an anti-bacterial. I've had two kids with it and I've had it three times now, one of the many joys of having children.

Remember your drops, and either cold or warm compresses depending if there are styes. Do your drops, and most of all, do what the doctor tells you until he says its gone. Don't let it become an ongoing problem.

anon75066
Post 15

How long can pink eye last?

anon62703
Post 14

I'm 15 and not sure if i have pink eye or not.

my left eye is bloodshot but only on one side. also, when i wake up in the morning my eyes are stuck shut. i can open them but it's really annoying! do any of you guys think that it is pink eye? thanks. jess

anon58605
Post 13

I'm a teen in high school, and i also have pink eye. I believe it is my third day having it.

It all started on New Years Eve and I had to go home early because it felt like there was something in my eye, and my eye was all gunky/gooey.

The next morning my eyes were pasted shut with eye goo and then once i got them opened I could see that they were red. I'm now on antibiotics and special red eye eye drops.

I now don't feel any pain, or experience any redness. But on top of this I have had the worst cold in my life! haha, but seriously. Cough, runny/stuffy nose, congestion, sneezing, you name it!

If you have pink eye, go to the doctor's office and get it checked out. The results will probably show fast! (:

anon56016
Post 12

My boss has pink eye today and swears it is not contagious. I have had pink eye before and do NOT want it again. Also, I am pregnant. Advice?

anon54117
Post 11

Yes! Most parents won't keep their children at home. We are their babysitters- right?

anon48711
Post 9

I just found out my mom has pink eye. I am concerned because I am going in for knee surgery next week. how can i prevent myself from catching this. The last time i went i had both my knees replaced and my right knee got infected. i don't want that to happen again. Thank you. Joe V.

anon40417
Post 8

i'm deathly afraid of pink eye and i might have it. Will I die?

Moderator's reply: No, you will not die. You do, however, need to see a doctor, who can give you some antibiotic eye drops to clear it up.

anon40416
Post 7

im like really concerned that like my eye like has a weird thing. its turning red and green and i have heard that these symptoms are like that thing called green eye. i have also been petting my dog, will he get it? OMG if he dies my life is over! Please help me!

anon38675
Post 6

I've been touching my eye and touching everything in my house. Does that mean my house is like a huge biohazard?

anon28477
Post 5

When taking an antibiotic for pink eye, how long should one remain contagious?

anon23951
Post 4

If taking an antibiotic, how long should you stay away from others?

anon17291
Post 3

Can pink eye be spread within hours?

tugboats
Post 1

As a teacher, I know that it is VERY important to keep your child home from school if he or she has pink eye. It can spread really quickly and before you know it, the whole class has pink eye. It's much better to keep your child home for a few days than to start an epidemic!

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