Viral Conjunctivitis

What is viral conjunctivitis?

Viral conjunctivitis, also called pinkeye, is a viral infection of the thin outermost layer of the eye which covers the eyeball and inside of the eyelids (the conjunctiva). This condition can affect people of all ages, though tends to affect children slightly more commonly than adults. The symptoms include red, itchy or gritty eyes, along with a runny nose and a cough. This condition is contagious, so it is important to take simple measures to avoid infecting other people, such as staying at home when sick and washing hands regularly. Viral conjunctivitis usually begins to get better without specific treatment after 5 to 7 days.


Viral conjunctivitis occurs when a virus causes swelling and redness of the outermost layer of the eye (the conjunctiva). There are several different viruses that can cause this condition. Some are common and cause mild symptoms, such as cold and flu viruses, and some can cause more severe symptoms, such as the zoster virus (chicken pox and shingles virus). Viral conjunctivitis is often contagious, and can be passed through droplets released when sneezing or coughing, or by coming into close contact with the sick person. Viral conjunctivitis can affect anyone regardless of age or sex. Children and people with weakened immune systems may be especially vulnerable to viral conjunctivitis.


The typical symptoms of viral conjunctivitis include red, watery and itchy eyes. Sometimes only one eye will be affected before symptoms also eventually develop in the second eye. Some people find their eyes are especially sensitive to light. People with viral conjunctivitis also often have symptoms of a cold or flu, and may have a runny nose, sore throat and a cough. Vision is normal during an episode of viral conjunctivitis.


The diagnosis is made based on the symptoms and appearance of the eyes. It may be necessary to diagnose the specific virus causing the infection, and a sample of the discharge from the eye can be investigated to identify the specific virus.


Specific treatment for viral conjunctivitis is not usually not needed, and symptoms often clear up within a couple of weeks. Some people find that lubricating eye drops and placing cool pads over the eyes help to soothe the symptoms. If there is a severe infection, or if the affected person has a weakened immune system, antiviral medication might be needed.


This condition is contagious, so taking simple measures to avoid infecting other people, such as staying at home when sick and washing hands regularly, can help to prevent passing the virus to other people.

Other names for viral conjunctivitis

  • Viral conjunctivitis
  • Pink eye