Thumbnail image of: Conjunctivitis: Illustration

Eye Infection, Viral: Teen Version

What is a viral eye infection?

A viral eye infection is caused by a virus. This condition is also called pink eye or viral conjunctivitis.

You may have:

  • Redness of the white part of the eye (sclera)
  • Redness of the inner eyelids
  • Puffy eyelids
  • A watery eye

What is the cause?

Red eyes are usually caused by a viral infection and they often occur when you have a cold. If a bacterial infection occurs, discharge from your eyes becomes yellow and the eyelids are often matted together after sleeping. If this happens, you need antibiotic eyedrops even if your eyes are not red.

How long does it last?

Viral conjunctivitis usually lasts as long as the cold (1 to 2 weeks). If one eye is red, the other eye will usually become infected over the next few days.

How can I take care of myself?

  • Rinse out with water: For viral infections, rinse your eyes with warm water as often as possible, at least every 1 or 2 hours while awake. Use a fresh, wet cotton ball each time. This rinsing usually will keep a bacterial infection from occurring.
  • Eyedrops: A viral infection is not helped by antibiotic eyedrops, so they are not recommended. Artificial tears eyedrops may reduce symptoms.
  • Contagiousness: Pink eye is harmless and mildly contagious. You do not need to miss any school.

When should I call my healthcare provider?


  • Your eyelids become very red or swollen.
  • You develop blurred vision or eye pain.

Call within 24 hours if:

  • A yellow discharge develops.
  • The redness lasts more than 7 days.
  • You have other concerns or questions.
Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick,” American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-06-07
Last reviewed: 2014-06-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 Barton D. Schmitt, MD. All rights reserved.

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