If you or a family member has pink eye, it is understandable to wonder how long pink eye is contagious. Not only is the redness and discharge unsightly, but it can keep you away from work, school or social activities for fear of spreading it to others. Before an answer can be given, however, it is important to understand exactly what pink eye is and its various forms.
Pink Eye is also know as Conjunctivitis and is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin membrane that covers the whites of the eyes and the inner part of the eyelids. When this membrane becomes irritated or infected it will usually become red in appearance, therefore giving it the name of pink eye. There are generally three ways that the conjunctiva can become inflamed; allergies, bacterial infection or viral infection. When a person develops conjunctivitis from allergies, they are usually a seasonal allergy sufferer or they are having a reaction to some foreign irritant such as perfume, or dust mites. Allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious and there is no need to worry about spreading it to others.
Bacterial and viral pink eye, however, are both highly contagious forms of conjunctivitis and special care should be taken to prevent its spread to others. Persons with viral conjunctivitis are usually infected as a result of a virus from the flu or other respiratory infections. As this form of pink eye is viral, there are no eye drops or other form of medication to resolve the problem and it must run its natural course. Viral conjunctivitis may last up to 14 days and in most cases will remain contagious until there is no longer any redness or discharge.
Bacterial pink eye, on the other hand, is treated with the use of antibiotic drops or an antibiotic ointment. Bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by the introduction of bacteria to the eye, usually by touch. The contagious period of bacterial conjunctivitis begins roughly 1 to 2 days prior to the manifestation of symptoms and will last until 24 hours after treatment begins. As you can see, the only accurate way of knowing how long your pink eye is contagious is to see an eye doctor who can determine what type of infection you have and start you on the correct path of treatment if necessary.