Conjunctivitis, also called pinkeye, is redness and swelling of the membrane that lines the eyelid and eye surface. This membrane is called the conjunctiva. When it is irritated or infected, it can become red and swollen.

Conjunctivitis is very common. It can be caused by a bacterial or viral infection or by excessively dry eyes, allergies and chemicals, fumes or smoke. Both viral and bacterial forms of conjunctivitis are highly contagious. If you have conjunctivitis, stay away from work or school until your symptoms clear up.

Red eye is a more general term. It includes not just pinkeye, but other problems that cause redness on or around the eye. Pinkeye is the main cause of red eye. Red eye can also be caused by foreign bodies, sores, scrapes, infections, styes or chalazion.

Common Symptoms of Conjunctivitis

  • Eye redness
  • Swollen or red eyelids
  • Excessive tears
  • Feeling as if something is stuck in the eye (foreign body sensation)
  • Itching or burning sensation in the eye
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Drainage from the eye

Treatment for Conjunctivitis

Treatment consists primarily of cleaning the eyes and preventing the condition from spreading. Wash your hands thoroughly, avoid touching your eyes and do not share washcloths or towels. Avoid wearing eye makeup while you have conjunctivitis. Eye drops can help ease the symptoms.

Viral conjunctivitis usually lasts one to two weeks. Because it is not caused by bacteria, viral conjunctivitis will not get better with antibiotics. Bacterial conjunctivitis is treated with antibiotic eye drops, and usually gets better within a few days.