What is viral conjunctivitis?

Viral Conjunctivitis
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Pinkeye from a virus in teens: Overview

Pinkeye is a problem that many teens get. In pinkeye, the lining of your eyelid and the eye surface become red and swollen. The lining is called the conjunctiva (say "kawn-junk-TY-vuh"). Pinkeye is also called conjunctivitis (say "kun-JUNK-tih-VY-tus").

Pinkeye can be caused by bacteria, a virus, or an allergy.

Your pinkeye is caused by a virus. This type of pinkeye can spread quickly from person to person, usually from touching.

Pinkeye caused by a virus usually gets better on its own in 7 to 10 days. But it can last longer. Antibiotics do not help this type of pinkeye.

Viral pinkeye

Pinkeye (conjunctivitis) is redness and swelling of the mucous membrane (conjunctiva) that lines the eyelid and eye surface. The most common type (adenovirus) is caused by a virus and occurs most often in adults, occasionally causing a sore throat at the same time that pinkeye symptoms occur.

Sometimes children with virus-caused upper respiratory infections develop pinkeye as a separate, bacterial infection. Viral and bacterial pinkeye are contagious and spread very easily.

Pinkeye is very common. It usually is not serious and goes away in 7 to 10 days without medical treatment. But it may last up to 3 weeks and can become ongoing (chronic).

The symptoms usually start in one eye and may then spread to the other eye. Besides redness and swelling in the eye, symptoms of viral pinkeye include:

  • Slight itching or burning.
  • Swollen and tender areas in front of the ears.
  • Increased tearing.
  • Clear or slightly thick, whitish drainage.

Home treatment helps reduce pain, keeps the eye free of drainage, and helps prevent the spread of infection. Home treatment includes:

  • Washing the hands frequently and thoroughly.
  • Using warm compresses to help relieve swelling and redness.
  • Changing and washing linens when they become soiled with drainage.
  • Not wearing contacts.
  • Not using eye makeup, and throwing away old eye makeup.

How can you care for your child who has pinkeye from a virus?

Make your child comfortable

  • Use moist cotton or a clean, wet cloth to remove the crust from your child's eyes. Wipe from the inside corner of the eye to the outside. Use a clean part of the cloth for each wipe.
  • Put cold or warm wet cloths on your child's eyes a few times a day if the eyes hurt or are itching.
  • Do not have your child wear contact lenses until the pinkeye is gone. Clean the contacts and storage case.
  • If your child wears disposable contacts, get out a new pair when the eyes have cleared and it is safe to wear contacts again.

Prevent pinkeye from spreading

  • Wash your hands and your child's hands often. Always wash them before and after you treat pinkeye or touch your child's eyes or face.
  • Do not have your child share towels, pillows, or washcloths while your child has pinkeye. Use clean linens, towels, and washcloths each day.
  • Do not share contact lens equipment, containers, or solutions.

Pinkeye from a virus in teens: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have pain in your eye, not just irritation on the surface.
  • You have a change in vision or a loss of vision.
  • Your pinkeye lasts longer than 7 days.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.