Both bacterial and viral conjunctivitis are highly contagious (see Pink Eye Transmission). They spread by direct contact with infected eye secretions, or contact with objects or surfaces that have been contaminated with these eye secretions (such as a door handle, washcloth, or pillowcase). After coming in contact with these secretions, the unaffected person then touches their eyes.
Once the virus or bacterium enters a person's eye, symptoms do not begin immediately. This period between transmission and the beginning of symptoms is called the incubation period (see Pink Eye Incubation Period).
Some common signs and symptoms of conjunctivitis include:
- Pinkness or redness in one or both eyes. It can also begin in one eye and spread to the other eye after a couple of days.
- One or both eyes "stuck shut" in the morning.
- Morning crusting.
- Burning, sandy, or gritty feeling.
- Swelling of the conjunctiva and/or eyelids.
The discharge can vary in color (clear, yellow, white, green) and may be thick or thin.
(Click Pink Eye Symptoms for more information.)
Before diagnosing the cause of pink eye, healthcare providers will ask a number of questions and perform a physical exam. Based on what they find, they may also recommend some tests. If they think that it is possibly conjunctivitis, they may test to see if it is being caused by adenovirus, which is the most common cause of viral conjunctivitis.
Other tests may be recommended if the healthcare provider wants to make sure another eye condition is not causing the symptoms.