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How Long Does Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis) Last? | MyVision.org

Pink eye can last anywhere from a few days to multiple weeks, depending on its severity and cause. 

Most often, conjunctivitis isn’t severe and will likely last from around two days to one week. However, some cases can be severe, and these cases can persist for weeks. In rare cases, pink eye could possibly cause lasting eye health issues if left untreated.

How Long Does Pink Eye Generally Last?

Pink eye will generally resolve within a few days without treatment. In more serious cases, it can last significantly longer and may sometimes require medical intervention in order to clear up without any lasting issues. 

The most important factor in how long a given case will last is the root cause of the pink eye. 

Bacterial Pink Eye

Bacterial conjunctivitis is one of the most common types of pink eye, and it is caused by bacteria. Infections are often mild. Symptoms mostly resolve within two to five days, although it may take up to 14 days for symptoms to completely go away. 

This is also one of the easier types of pink eye to treat. Antibiotics in the form of eye drops or ointments are sometimes prescribed to reduce the risk of lasting harm and shorten the recovery time. This type of medication should only be used if prescribed by a doctor.

Viral Pink Eye

Like bacterial conjunctivitis, viral conjunctivitis isn’t usually serious. It takes somewhat longer for viral conjunctivitis to resolve than bacterial conjunctivitis. 

Mild infections take between one to two weeks to go away without treatment. Some cases can cause symptoms that last a few weeks, but even then, long-term consequences aren’t common. 

Some cases can be severe enough to require treatment. Note that antibiotics cannot treat viral infections. Instead, antiviral medications may be used for serious cases. 

Allergic Pink Eye

Allergic conjunctivitis is caused by exposure to an allergen. This means there isn’t a definitive timeline for this form of pink eye. 

It will generally resolve once the allergen (often pollen or pet dander) is removed from the environment. In cases where this may not be possible, medications can sometimes be used to help, such as antihistamine and vasoconstrictors. 

If you routinely get pink eye as a result of allergies, talk to a doctor. Even if it isn’t possible to completely prevent exposure to an allergen, as is often the case for people with pollen allergies in many parts of the world, a doctor can provide an evidence-based plan to reduce symptom severity.

What to Do When Symptoms Don’t Improve

If pink eye symptoms don’t seem to improve even after several days, they get worse, or they are especially severe, talk to your doctor. Pink eye isn’t usually serious, but the eye is a sensitive organ, and severe pink eye does have the potential to cause lasting damage. 

Misdiagnosis of the cause of pink eye is possible. A doctor may believe the pink eye is caused by bacteria and prescribe medications based on that assessment. However, if the pink eye is actually caused by a virus, that medication won’t help. 

If your symptoms don’t improve with prescribed treatment, visit the doctor again. 

Tips to Prevent Pink Eye

Some simple habits can reduce the risk of exposing your eyes to bacteria, viruses, and irritants. 

Wash Your Hands

Always wash your hands before touching your eyes.

Practice Good Contact Hygiene

To prevent bacterial growth on contact lenses, disinfect them regularly, and always follow any cleaning instructions provided. Wash your hands every time before handling a lens. Replace cases frequently to foster a clean and hygienic environment.

Do Not Share Personal Items

Sharing personal items like towels may lead to spreading contaminants that can cause pink eye. Don’t share makeup, like mascara, eyeliners, and makeup brushes.

Be especially careful in communal environments like gyms where bacteria can easily thrive. Take precautions by disinfecting communal equipment, such as exercise machines.

Limit Exposure to Allergens

Allergies can lead to eye irritation and inflammation, so avoid allergens such as dust and pet dander as much as possible. Additionally, always maintain clean environments by routinely cleaning surfaces that come into contact with your eyes, like eyeglasses or makeup brushes. 

If you know you may be in an environment where there may be a lot of particulates in the air, such as a dusty or windy area, consider wearing goggles or wraparound sunglasses to reduce how much can get into your eyes.

References

Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye): Treatment. (January 2019). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Conjunctivitis. (June 2014). StatPearls.

Viral Conjunctivitis. (April 2023). StatPearls.

Prevent the Spread of Pink Eye As Children Head Back to School. (September 2011). American Academy of Ophthalmology. 

Patient Education: Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye) (Beyond the Basics). (August 2023). UpToDate.

For Clinicians. (August 2021). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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