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Is Pink Eye Contagious?

The short and definitive answer to this question is 'Yes!'

Pink eye, or conjunctivitis is a general term to describe conjunctivitis. Conjunctivitis is the inflammation of the membrane lining the eye either caused by an infection or an allergic reaction. Common symptoms include discharge, tearing, eye pain and irritation, redness, blurred vision and sensitivity to light. Infectious conjunctivitis can be highly contagious and spread from one eye to the other, and all around the family if common sense precautious are not taken.

Bacterial conjunctivitis is the most common form and is caused by bacteria that may come from your own skin when our natural bacterial flora over acts or upper respiratory tract either from yourself or another person. What differentiates bacterial conjunctivitis from other forms is a mucopurulent discharge that forms a crust on the eye over night. When the eye is producing tears and discharge, bacteria are in these fluids and can easily be transmitted to others. Infection through casual contact is likely, and an infection can spread through a family, a classroom of students or a group of office colleagues very quickly. Bacterial conjunctivitis is self-limiting and can resolve on it's own in a week or two without any treatment. However, it can also be easily treated with antibiotic eye drops of ointments that an resolve the symptoms in a few short days.

Viral conjunctivitis is characterized by a wet weepy eye. There are currently no effective medications to treat a viral conjunctivitis other than artificial tears. This kind of pink eye can last from a few weeks or more. Once again, the virus is present in tears and discharges from the eye which can be passed on to others all too easily. Direct contact with the infected eye should be avoided and any bandages, tissues and cotton pads used for bathing the eye should be carefully wrapped and disposed of properly.

Allergic conjunctivitis is a form of pink eye that is not contagious. It is a reaction caused by an allergy inducing substance and symptoms include itching swelling, redness and tearing. It can be easily treated with a cold compress and allergy eye drops.

To prevent the spread of pink eye, the sufferer should wash their hands frequently, and should try not to touch or rub the affected eye at all. Washcloths and towels should not be shared with other family members and should be given a hot wash to kill the bacteria or virus. Communal objects such as telephones, door knobs, faucets and toys should be disinfected with antibacterial wipes and disinfectant sprays to neutralize the bacterial or viral infection.

Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are both highly contagious, but pink eye caused by hay fever or an allergic reaction is not contagious. In this case, pink eye is a symptom of the allergy and will disappear when the allergen is removed or when antihistamine treatment reduces the allergic response of the body to the allergen. Sometimes it is hard to diagnose which type of pink eye someone is suffering with. If you have pink eye, take all proper precautions as summarized below to avoid spreading the infection.

  • Pink Eye ContagiousAvoid contact with or rubbing the infected eye
  • Wash hands frequently, especially after applying eyedrops or lotion to the eye
  • Do not share towels or washcloths
  • Carefully dispose of any tissues, cotton compresses and wipes which have been used on the infected eye
  • Bathe the eye using just one wipe from the inner to the outer corner, then dispose of the cotton. Use fresh cotton for each wipe
  • Sterilize towels and washcloths after use
  • Disinfect telephones, doorknobs, toys etc to avoid contamination
  • Discard contact lenses and obtain new. Do not use until the infection is completely healed
  • Keep away from public places whilst a discharge is still resolved

How long is pink eye contagious?
Pink eye is contagious while there is tearing and or a discharge or matting of the eyelid. The discharge indicates that bacteria or virus are still present. Once the discharge symptoms have stopped, the sufferer is no longer contagious and may return to school or work again as appropriate.

Pink eye is contagious whilever there is tearing, a discharge or matting of the eyelids, especially during sleep. The discharge indicates that bacteria or virus are still present. Once the discharge symptoms have stopped, the sufferer is no longer contagious and may return to school or work again as appropriate. Pink eye usually remains contagious from 3 to 7 days.

If a doctor has prescribed antibiotic drops or ointment, the sufferer should wait at least 24 hours after beginning the treatment before returning to school or work.

What about wearing contact lenses? Unfortunately pink eye is so contagious that sufferers will have to throw away their contact lenses and the carrying case. This is the only way to be sure of avoiding re-infection. The usual disinfectant cleaning solution and hydrogen peroxide do not kill the bacteria or virus which has caused the infection. One further point is that you should be certain that the pink eye infection is completely clear before wearing your new contact lenses.

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