How do you get pink eye/conjunctivitis? Is Pink Eye contagious? How long is pink eye contagious for?

Infective conjunctivitis occurs when the conjunctiva becomes inflamed (swollen), as a result of an infection. The  most common causes of an infection in your eyes are:

* bacteria, for example the strains of bacteria that more commonly cause lung and ear infections
* a virus, most commonly an adenovirus that may also cause a sore throat and high temperature (fever)
* sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea

There are no fool-proof signs or symptoms that will allow your GP to distinguish between a bacterial or viral cause of infective conjunctivitis. See the PINK EYE SYMPTOMS section for guidelines in determining the type of Conjunctivitis, you are infected by. If your condition is persistent, you can have an eye swab taken by your doctor to determine the cause of the infection.

Spreading the Pink Eye infection:

You are more likely to develop infective conjunctivitis, if you have been in close contact with someone who is already infected by conjunctivitis. After coming into contact with anyone who has infective conjunctivitis, it is very important to wash your hands thoroughly.

How do you get Pink Eye?

Pink Eye is contagious.  Both viral and bacterial conjunctivitis, which can be caused by airborne sources, spread easily to others. Coughing and sneezing can spread contagious pink eye by spraying droplets into the air. Shared towels, table tops, counter spaces and bathrooms an also be infected. You may be more at risk of infective conjunctivitis if:

* you have been in a crowded place, such as on a crowded train (infections are easily spread in crowded places)

* you have recently had an upper respiratory tract infection, like a cold.

* you are old or young: the condition is more common in children and the elderly, possibly because children come into contact with more infections at school and elderly people may have weaker immune systems.

* you have blepharitis (inflammation of the rims of the eyelids), which can be caused by a bacterial infection and may lead to conjunctivitis

* you have diabetes (a long-term condition caused by too much glucose in the blood) or another condition that weakens your immune system.

* you are taking corticosteroids (steroids), a medication containing hormones (powerful chemicals produced by the body) that can make you more prone to infections as they weaken your immune system.

How to prevent infective conjunctivitis:

The best way to stop infective conjunctivitis spreading is by thoroughly washing your hands after touching or treating your infected eyes.

If someone close to you have Conjunctivitis, then wash your hands every time you come into contact with them. Try to avoid sharing towels, pillows and flannels to prevent the infection from spreading.

Should I keep my child home from school?

It is advised that you do not need to keep your child off school if they have conjunctivitis, unless they are feeling particularly unwell. But If there are a number of cases of conjunctivitis at one school or nursery, you may be advised to keep your child away from school until their infection has cleared up.

For treatment of Pink Eye/conjunctivitis, see the different sections on this website.

Eye drops. Pink eye. Conjunctivitis. Pink eye treatment.

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