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How long does pink eye last?

Updated on March 24, 2014

Medically referred to as conjunctivitis, pink eye is an ocular condition caused due to a viral or bacterial infection and characterized by inflammation of the conjunctiva, i.e., the outermost part of the eye. Even though pink eye is a harmless condition, patients typically experience a lot of discomfort and are usually unable to efficiently follow their daily routine. All patients must seek medical attention to treat the condition.

The incubation period of pink eye

An incubation period refers to the timeframe occurring between commencement of the infection and the eventual occurrence of symptoms. For pink eye, it is dependent on the causes, type, and accompanying symptoms.

Pink eye is not contagious during the incubation period. The period can vary between 12 hours to three days in case of viral infections, while it is usually falls between 1 to 3 days during bacterial infections.The incubation timeframe tends to differ from two days to two weeks as per varied situations.

Pink eye caused due to infection by bacteria becomes contagious as soon as the symptoms appear. It will continue spreading for up to 24 hours after taking medicines. Viral infections can remain contagious for nearly 14 days after the first symptoms appear.

Symptoms of pink eye

Some of the common signs and symptoms of pink eye are listed below:

  • Increased tearing
  • Burning sensationsand itchiness
  • Irritating, watery eyes
  • The eyelids may be stuck together on waking
  • Gritty or sandy sensation in the eye
  • Discharge of greenish or yellow fluid from the eyes

How long does pink eye last after seeking medical treatment?

As per the type of pink eye causes, the durations for which pink eye lasts with treatment are listed below:

  • Allergic pink eye: Application of moist and cold washcloths on the affected eye helps in alleviation of discomfort. Patients can also get instant relief via use of OTC eye drops. The conditions begins easing after treatment by a doctor, or post removal of the allergen. In some instances, it may persist for a day or two. Persistent cases may require treatment with stronger drugs.

  • Bacterial pink eye: Eye drops and antibiotics are prescribed to treat pink eye caused by bacterial infections. After the commencement of antibiotic therapy, irritation, redness, ocular discharge, and other accompanying symptoms may alleviate. The overall condition will also show marked improvement within 24 to 48 hours. It is important to finish the full dosage of antibiotics, even if the infection resolves within 1 or 2 days. This is because the remaining bacteria can later cause a new instance of pink eye which will again require antibiotic treatment.

  • Viral pink eye: Viral pink eye infections can be effectively controlled via varied home remedies such as allowing the eyes to rest for sufficient time, and maintaining personal hygiene to prevent it from spreading. The symptoms may show improvement after 2 to 3 days. However, before the symptoms improve, patients may experience an aggravation of the symptoms. Varied accompanying symptoms such increased tearing, ocular redness, and irritation in the eyes slowly ease up. Morning crusting however tends to persist for longer periods.Occasionally, patients may continue suffering for 4 days to a week, while in some others viral pink eye can last for nearly 3 weeks. However, in a majority of cases the condition persists for only a day or two and often does not need any specific type of medical care. Adults with viral pink eye can go back to work and affected children can avail of daycare facilities, after 3 to 5 days. In rare cases, pink eye can arise due to infection by the herpes virus. This can be treated with only anti-viral medications. It is very important for such patients to seek immediate medical attention.

Faster recovery from pink eye

Pink eye usually takes a long time to disappear without treatment, often a week or longer. Lack of medical treatment can also worsen the condition. Some untreated cases of pink eye can also persist for nearly 3 weeks, while some patients may continue to suffer from the symptoms even after 2 to 3 weeks of medical treatment.

Individuals who wear contact lenses, or those with a compromised immune system, or those with only one functioning eye have to take additional care to recover from pink eye. Use of contact lenses should be stopped till the condition fully disappears.

People suffering from any kind of pink eye need to immediately seek medical attention if they experience severe symptoms such as vision changes, photosensitivity, problems in opening or keeping the eye open, or extreme pain in the eye, etc.

People with pink eye should avoid touching the eyes even if they experience severe itchiness. It is important to wash the hands on a frequent basis, particularly after applying medicines. Towels, eye drops, and other personal items should not be shared with others. Used eye drops and tissues should be disposed in a proper manner.


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