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Pinkeye (also called conjunctivitis) is redness and swelling of the conjunctiva, the mucous membrane that lines the eyelid and eye surface. The lining of the eye is usually clear. If irritation or infection occurs, the lining becomes red and swollen. See pictures of a normal eye and an eye with conjunctivitis.

Pinkeye is very common. It usually is not serious and goes away in 7 to 10 days without medical treatment.

Most cases of pinkeye are caused by:

  • Infections caused by viruses or bacteria.
  • Dry eyes from lack of tears or exposure to wind and sun.
  • Chemicals, fumes, or smoke (chemical conjunctivitis).
  • Allergies.

Viral and bacterial pinkeye are contagious and spread very easily. Since most pinkeye is caused by viruses for which there is usually no medical treatment, preventing its spread is important. Poor hand-washing is the main cause of the spread of pinkeye. Sharing an object, such as a washcloth or towel, with a person who has pinkeye can spread the infection.