Is Pinkeye Contagious?

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Prevent the Spread of Pinkeye

Infectious forms of pinkeye are highly contagious and are spread by direct contact with infected people. If someone has infectious pinkeye, avoid touching the eye area and wash the hands frequently, particularly after applying medications to the eye area. Never share towels or handkerchiefs, and throw away tissues after each use. Disinfecting surfaces like countertops, sinks, and doorknobs can also help prevent the spread of infectious pinkeye.

What is pinkeye?

Pinkeye, also termed conjunctivitis, is inflammation of the conjunctiva, the tissue that lines the inside of the eyelid and the white part of the eyeball. Pinkeye is a common problem in both children and adults. When pinkeye develops, the blood vessels become more visible and give a pinkish tinge to the eyelids and the whites of the eyes. The inflammation of pinkeye may be caused by four main sources: bacteria, viruses, allergens, and chemical irritants.

Is pinkeye contagious? What is the incubation period for pinkeye?

The answer to the question about pinkeye contagiousness depends upon the source or cause of the conjunctival irritation. For example, bacterial and viral causes of pinkeye are almost always contagious and are spread from person to person. However, pinkeye caused by allergens and chemical irritants is not contagious by person-to-person contact. Pinkeye that is contagious has an incubation period as long as 14 days. However, most doctors do not think that pinkeye becomes contagious to other people until symptoms start to develop. Some bacterial and viral strains are capable of being transferred from humans to pets (for example, dogs and cats) and also from infected pets to humans.

How will I know when I have pinkeye?

Unfortunately, the symptoms and signs of both contagious and noncontagious pinkeye often are so similar it is difficult to tell them apart. The symptoms and signs of both contagious and noncontagious pinkeye may include the following:

Diagnosis by a physician is usually done by physical examination and patient history; seldom are tests run because the only effective treatment is removal of noninfectious irritants and relatively short-term antibiotic therapy if bacterial pinkeye is suspected. In rare severe infections, physicians may utilize conjunctival scrapings and cultures to identify the infecting organism.

If you are unsure if you or others have contagious pinkeye, act as if it is contagious until you know the cause.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/10/2017

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