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Conjunctivitis is swelling (inflammation) or infection of the conjunctiva. This is the membrane that lines the eyelids and covers the white part of the eye.

Alternative Names:

Inflammation - conjunctiva; Pink eye


Symptoms include:

Exams and Tests:

Your health care provider will:

  • Examine your eyes
  • Swab the conjunctiva to get a sample for analysis

Treatment of conjunctivitis depends on the cause.

Allergic conjunctivitis may improve when allergies are treated. It may go away on its own when you avoid your allergy triggers. Cool compresses may help soothe allergic conjunctivitis.

Antibiotic medicines most often in the form of eye drops work well to treat bacterial conjunctivitis. Viral conjunctivitis will go away on its own. Mild steroid eye drops may help ease discomfort. Many doctors give mild antibiotic eye drops for pink eye to prevent bacterial conjunctivitis.

You can soothe the discomfort of viral or bacterial conjunctivitis by applying warm compresses (clean cloths soaked in warm water) to your closed eyes.

Outlook (Prognosis):

The outcome is most often good with treatment.

Possible Complications:

The infection can come back if you do not take steps to prevent it from spreading.

When to Contact a Medical Professional:

Call with your health care provider if your symptoms last longer than 3 or 4 days or if your vision is affected.


Good hygiene can help prevent the spread of conjunctivitis. Things you can do include:

  • Change pillowcases often.
  • Do not share eye makeup and replace it regularly.
  • Do not share towels or handkerchiefs.
  • Handle and clean contact lenses properly.
  • Keep hands away from the eye.
  • Wash your hands often.

Alvarenga LS, Ginsberg B, Mannis MJ. Bacterial conjunctivitis. In: Tasman W, Jaeger EA, eds. Duane's Ophthalmology. 2013 ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins;2013:vol 4, chap 5.

Bhatt U, Lagnado R, Dua HS. Follicular conjunctivitis. In: Tasman W, Jaeger EA, eds. Duane's Ophthalmology. 2013 ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins;2013:vol 4, chap 7.

Rubenstein JB, Tannan A.. Conjunctivitis: Infectious and noninfectious. In: Yanoff M, Duker JS, eds. Ophthalmology. 4th ed. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Mosby; 2013:chap 4.6.

Wright JL, Wightman JM. Red and painful eye. In Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2013:chap 22.

Yanoff M, Cameron D. Diseases of the visual system. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 431.

Review Date: 9/2/2014
Reviewed By: Franklin W. Lusby, MD, ophthalmologist, Lusby Vision Institute, La Jolla, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 2002 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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