What is viral conjunctivitis?

Viral conjunctivitis is a highly contagious eye infection caused by viruses.

How will I know that I have viral conjunctivitis?

Viral conjunctivitis can lead to one or more of these symptoms:

  • eye irritation and redness
  • excessive tearing from eyes
  • discharge from the eyes
  • swelling of the eyelids
  • photophobia (unable to tolerate looking into sunlight)
  • often associated with an upper respiratory tract infection (cold).

How did I get viral conjunctivitis?

Viral conjunctivitis is highly contagious and means you are likely to have come into contact with someone who already has conjunctivitis.

What does the treatment involve?

  • If you develop viral conjunctivitis you may be treated with an antibiotic eye drop and/or a steroid eye drop.
  • Treatment helps to decrease inflammation and alleviate symptoms, but the antibiotics or steroids will not treat the infection itself.
  • Symptoms may be eased with a cool compress and some lubricant eye drops (artificial tears) as required.
  • Some patients find it soothing to keep their lubricating eye drops refrigerated.

How to stop the spread of viral conjunctivitis?

  • Throw away tissues that may have come into contact with eye discharge.
  • Do not share your towel, face washer, pillows or soap with other people.
  • Do not share your eye drops with anyone, even if they also have conjunctivitis.
  • Wash your hands before and after touching your eye and using eye drops.

Things to remember

  • You will remain infectious as long as there is a discharge from your eye (usually 10-14 days after the last eye becomes symptomatic).
  • If you usually wear contact lenses, throw away the lenses you have been using. Do not use contacts until you have been symptom free for one week, then use fresh lenses.
  • Children with conjunctivitis should be kept home from school. Symptoms may last from two days up to three weeks.

When to seek additional medical advice:

  • Severe pain or sensitivity to light.
  • Decreased vision.
  • Redness persisting greater than 10-14 days.

For any further information please contact our Infection Control Department.


Disclaimer This document describes the generally accepted practice at the time of publication only. It is only a summary of clinical knowledge regarding this area. The Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital makes no warranty, express or implied, that the information contained in this document is comprehensive. They accept no responsibility for any consequence arising from inappropriate application of this information.

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  • Viral Conjunctivitis #27
  • Owner: Emergency Department
  • Last Reviewed: June 25, 2018
  • Next Review: June 16, 2023