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What causes pinkeye and is it contagious?
Q: What causes pinkeye and is it contagious?
A: Frank, pinkeye (also known as “conjunctivitis”) is a common infection or irritation of the eyes. It is usually caused by germs (both viruses and bacteria) and often occurs with a cold or ear infection. It can also be caused by allergies, chemicals, or irritants (such as smoke, dust, or make-up). It can involve one or both eyes and usually lasts 3-5 days. The symptoms include:

  • Red eyes

  • Drainage from the eyes which may be clear, white, yellow, or green

  • Crusty eyelashes when the child wakes up

  • Itchy, sore or burning eyes
  • Sensitivity to light

  • Conjunctivitis is very contagious when it is caused by germs. It spreads from one person to another by touching infected drainage from the eye, mucus from the nose, or saliva, and then touching one’s eyes; sharing tissues and towels; and coughing and sneezing into someone’s face. It can be contagious from 1-2 days before the symptoms appear until 24 hours after antibiotic treatment is started (if it is caused by a bacteria), or until the eye drainage ends (if it is caused by a virus).

    If your child or anyone else in the family has the symptoms of conjunctivitis, see your doctor. The doctor may prescote antibiotic eye drops or ointment. Be sure to complete the full course of medication as prescoted by the doctor or else the infection can return. Here’s what to do to limit the spread of conjunctivitis:

  • Encourage your child not to rub his eyes.

  • Have children wash their hands after touching their eyes and nose.

  • Wash your own hands after touching your child’s eyes, applying the eye medication, or blowing noses.

  • Throw out tissues after use. Don’t share tissues or towels.
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician