Learn The Difference Between The 2

Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, comes in two major forms – viral and bacterial. While there are many similarities between the two types of pink eye, there are also several differences that set them apart from one another, most notably their longevity and symptoms. If you’re trying to figure out how long your pink eye will last and which kind it might be, you’ll want to read on!

Viral Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is a thin membrane that lines the inner surface of your eyelids and covers the inside surface of your eyeballs. While most cases are caused by viruses, bacterial forms can also exist and affect anyone at any age. The symptoms are usually dry eye, redness and irritation with possible discharge or crusting on the outer surface of the eyelid.

 A common form of conjunctivitis is viral conjunctivitis, or pink eye, which can last anywhere from a few days to weeks. If your eyes are red and irritated but don’t have any discharge or crusting around your eyelids, you most likely have a mild case of pink eye that should clear up on its own.

Bacterial Conjunctivitis

The bacterial form of conjunctivitis is very contagious and can spread through close contact with people who have the bacteria on their hands or other body parts, or by touching something that has the bacteria on it. It is also possible to get infected with the bacterial form of conjunctivitis by coming into contact with a surface that has been touched by someone with the infection and then touching your own eyes or face. 

It takes days for symptoms of this type of pink eye to appear after you come in contact with the bacteria, but they will last anywhere from seven to ten days. If you suspect you may have contracted viral pink eye (the more common form), see your doctor as soon as possible. Treatment for viral pink eye typically consists of anti-viral medications.

Differences Between Viral and Bacterial Pink Eye

The differences between viral and bacterial pink eye are that viral pink eye is usually not contagious, but can be contagious with contact to someone who has the virus. It is not caused by bacteria and typically clears up within a few days to weeks days without treatment or antibiotic use. 

Bacterial pink eye is most often spread through contact with an infected person, object or surface and can be spread to other people in close proximity to the infected person, such as those at school or work.

Both viral and bacterial pink eye are characterized by inflammation of eyelids, redness, itching, and a watery discharge that usually contains a small amount of pus, making it difficult to open your eyes all the way. Viral pink eye is not contagious in general but can be spread through contact with an infected person or object.

Signs and Symptoms of Pink Eye

Pink eye is caused by a viral or bacterial infection, and sometimes it's difficult to tell the difference between the two types of infections. Viral pink eye is usually not serious, but bacteria-caused pink eye can be dangerous if it is not treated promptly with antibiotics.

Both forms of pink eye share similar symptoms which includes:

  • Tearing
  • Swelling of the eye
  • Discharge that is watery and/or yellow or green in color
  • Itchy, red eyes that look like they are swollen
  • Burning sensations

These symptoms may last anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks for pink eye. In most cases though, these outbreaks are short-lived and easy to treat at home.

When to Seek Medical Attention

If you have pink eye that doesn't go away within a few days, if your eyes start to itch, or if your eyelids are swollen shut and you have trouble opening them, it's time to see a doctor. You should also make an appointment if pink eye is accompanied by a fever and other signs of illness or if the inside of your nose is infected.

A doctor can prescribe eye drops that help with symptoms and ease discomfort. If pink eye is caused by a bacterial infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to cure it. For viral infections, there is no cure but your immune system will fight off signs of illness in a couple days or weeks.

Treatment Options

If you have a viral pink eye, your eye doctor might recommend a prescription anti-viral medication to help clear up the virus faster and avoid complications like conjunctivitis or corneal ulcers from developing. 

If you have a bacterial pink eye, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection and get rid of the bacteria that is causing it so that your eyes can heal properly.

Antibiotics can also be used to help treat pink eye if it turns out to be caused by a virus. If your doctor diagnoses you with a bacterial infection, he or she might prescribe oral antibiotics for you to take at home and another prescription antibiotic eye drop that you’ll need to apply directly into your eyes as directed until they clear up.

Prevention Tips

Preventing pink eye in your household should be as simple as practicing good hygiene and avoiding contact with infected people. It is also helpful to cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough, wash hands regularly, and disinfect surfaces often. You can also reduce the risk of catching pink eye by washing your hands before touching your eyes, which will help prevent the spread of any viruses that may have made their way onto your fingers from other areas of the body (including the bathroom).

Another important thing to remember is that pink eye spreads very easily, so be sure to keep all infected people away from children and others who have not yet had an opportunity to get their own vaccinations. If someone in your household contracts pink eye, it’s best to ask them not to come into close contact with others until they are well again.

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