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Difference Between Viral and Bacterial Pink Eye


Conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink eye, is a swelling of the mucous membranes of the inner eyelid and outer surface of the eye caused by irritation or infection.  There are several causes of pink eye and treatment will depend on the source.

Viral Pink Eye

Viral pink eye is the most common cause of pink eye and can originate from a variety of viruses.  Viral pink eye generally infects one eye and is then spread to the second.  Viral pink eye is highly contagious, and according to the CDC, can often result in epidemics.

In most cases, viral pink eye requires no treatment and will generally run begin to clear within three to five days.  The entire infection will usually run its course within a week, though in some cases it can take several weeks if complications develop.

Your doctor may prescribe a mild antibiotic drop to prevent bacterial conjunctivitis.  There are rare cases, such as pink eye caused by a herpes virus, which will respond to antiviral medications.

Bacterial Pink Eye

Bacterial pink eye is caused by a bacterial infection. According to the CDC bacterial infections are the leading cause of children being absent from school or daycare. Symptoms generally begin to subside within twenty-four hours of treatment with an antibiotic.

Like viral pink eye, a bacterial infection is highly contagious while the mucous is still discharging from the eye.  With treatment, the symptoms can begin to subside within a few days. Depending on the severity of the infection, the symptoms can last weeks.

Other Causes of Pink Eye

Pink eye can also be caused by a variety of other factors including allergens, chemicals, fungi, certain diseases, contact lens use, and foreign bodies.



“Conjunctivitis: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” National Library of Medicine – National Institutes of Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2011.

“CDC – Conjunctivitis: Causes.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2011. <

“Pinkeye (Conjunctivitis) – WebMD | Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment.” WebMD – Better information. Better health.. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2011.

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