Viral conjunctivitis is a viral infection of the conjunctiva causing inflammation. It is commonly known as pink eye.


The conjunctiva is a membrane that forms the outermost layer of the eye and also lines the inner part of the eyelid. It serves to protect the eye and maintain proper lubrication. The conjunctiva can become infected by a virus and cause inflammation of the conjunctiva. This is most commonly caused by adenovirus. In children, conjunctivitis may also present with sore throat and fever.

Other types of conjunctivitis include bacterial and allergic conjunctivitis. There are several other causes of pink eye and it is important to be evaluated by an ophthalmologist when symptoms arise.

Signs & Symptoms

Symptoms include burning, itching, foreign body sensation, swollen eyelids, pink discoloration of the eye, photophobia, and watery discharge. These symptoms may be preceded by an upper respiratory infection.


A complete eye examination will be done by the ophthalmologist. Using the slit-lamp, signs of viral conjunctivitis include injected conjunctiva, watery discharge, swelling of the eyelids, follicles, and pre-auricular adenopathy. No cultures or swabs are necessary if discharge is not extreme.


Viral conjunctivitis is a self limiting process that may take up to 2 weeks to resolve. Patients should avoid rubbing eyes and limit exposure with others as conjunctivitis is very contagious. Treatments include artificial tears and cool compresses several times per day, antihistamines for itching, and topical steroids if membrane or pseudomembrane is found on examination.


As viral conjunctivitis is very contagious, it is important to frequently hand wash and restrain from touching and rubbing the eyes. Work and school time should be limited if exposure with others is common. Please discuss limitations with your physician.

Prognosis is good as condition is self-limited.