How Long Does Pink Eye Last? Viral Vs. Bacterial

September 7, 2022

Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, is an infection that affects the inner eyelid surface. This membrane is known as the conjunctiva and pink eye may also affect the white of the eye or the sclera. It mainly causes inflammation and a type of discharge from the eyes.

Conjunctivitis got the name pink eye because it causes the eye to redden. Other symptoms are swelling, itching, and dryness of the eyes. There are two main types of conjunctivitis, bacterial and viral. They have similar symptoms, but you may be able to tell their differences. 

Viral Conjunctivitis


Viral conjunctivitis usually results from adenoviruses, the same pathogens that cause the common cold. They are known to cause other respiratory infections. It is why most of the time when you have viral pink eye, it usually follows a cold. Viral pink eye is quite contagious, and it spreads easily from person to person. It will often clear up on its own after a few days or, at the longest, a week or two.

Bacterial Conjunctivitis


The bacteria streptococcus pneumonia causes bacterial conjunctivitis. The bacterium staphylococcus aureus may also cause bacterial pink eye. Like viral pink eye, bacterial pink eye is contagious and can spread just as quickly. 

Bacterial pink eye does not last long. The time between manifesting and clearing up usually lasts seven to ten days for a mild case. However, you may prefer to treat it using antibiotics, which would make it clear up within 24 hours. 

What Are the Symptoms of Pink Eye?


Both forms of pink eye share the following symptoms:

  • Tearing

  • Swelling of the eye

  • Sclera Discoloration from white to pink

  • Itchiness

  • Burning sensation


Differences Between Viral and Bacterial Pink Eye


Here are the main differences between the two forms of conjunctivitis.


Eye Discharge


Both forms of pink eye will cause a discharge from your eyes. However, bacterial pink eye causes a yellowish discharge, while viral pink eye only causes your eyes to water.

Although this method is not foolproof in determining the type of pink eye you have, it will guide you in the right direction. A doctor at Halifax Heath advises that the discharge from bacterial pink eye may be pus and crust.

Eye Redness


Both viral and bacterial pink eye will cause different intensities of redness of the eyes. Usually, bacterial pink eye causes the eyes to be much redder compared to viral pink eye. Also, viral pink eye may manifest in one eye first, while bacterial pink eye manifests in both eyes simultaneously. However, both can spread to both eyes after starting in one.

Other Infections


Both pink eye infections will often be comorbid with other infections. Viral pink eye is often present when you have a common cold, while bacterial pink eye accompanies an ear infection. Bacterial pink eye may also accompany a bacterial respiratory infection. 

Mode of Infection


Viral pink eye spreads when someone sneezes or coughs and the droplets encounter your eyes. On the other hand, bacterial pink eye occurs when you touch your eyes with dirty hands. It may also develop if you use dirty makeup or share eye products.

For more on pink eye, visit Eye Associates of New York at our office in New York, New York. Call (212) 650-4888 to schedule an appointment today.

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