Conjunctivitis refers to an inflammation of the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is a thin, clear layer of tissue lining up the inner surface of the eyelid. It covers the white part of the eye. Out of the various types of conjunctivitis, viral conjunctivitis is the most widespread.
It is prevalent in children. It can easily spread from one person to another in schools, crowded places and at home. It may affect one or both eyes. Viral conjunctivitis normally starts in one eye before spreading to the other in a couple of days. It is often a slight infection of the eye. However, it can develop into a more severe problem. 

Causes and Risk Factors

The following may cause viral conjunctivitis:

  • Varieties of viruses such as adenovirus and herpes virus 
  • Being exposed to someone with an upper respiratory tract infection 
  • Genital and oral herpes cause neonatal conjunctiva (in newborns). Neonatal conjunctiva results in severe eye damage.
  • Blowing the nose can cause a virus the movement of a virus from the respiratory system to the eyes.

Risk factors for viral conjunctivitis include:

  • Exposure to a person infected with viral conjunctivitis
  • Extended-wear contact lenses

Signs & Symptoms

Symptoms of viral conjunctivitis may include:

  • A feeling of something in the eye
  • Red, burning, itchy eyes
  • Watery (not thick) discharge from the eyes 
  • Puffy eyes

However, the individual with the following symptoms should seek medical attention: 

  • If the eyes are too red 
  • Blurred vision or extra sensitivity to light
  • Moderate to severe pain in the eye
  • Worsening or persistent symptoms
  • Weak immune systems after cancer or other treatments and due to HIV infection


The eye care professional will examine an individual’s history and symptoms. One symptom he/she will look for is if both eyes are affected. Another symptom is a common cold or respiratory tract infection. 
There may be complex causes of viral conjunctivitis. The professional may test a sample of the discharge in the laboratory. Such causes include herpes simplex virus (which involves blisters on the skin), rubella (measles) or varicella-zoster virus (shingles and chickenpox).


Treatment of viral conjunctivitis is directed towards increasing patient comfort. It lessens the course of the infection. Treatment is also aimed at preventing the spread of the contagious virus.

Medical Treatment

Most viral conjunctivitis cases will resolve on their own without medical prescriptions. The infection may last seven to 14 days. Some stubborn infections, however, may last up to three weeks. Viral conjunctivitis does not require antibiotics. What the eye doctor may recommend are artificial tears to provide relief. 
The physician may prescribe topical steroid drops. These reduce discomfort from inflammation in severe cases. The drops will, however, not cure the infection. Antiviral drugs for more severe types of conjunctivitis may be prescribed.

Home Care

The individual can gently apply warm compresses to the affected eye(s) to alleviate the discomfort. The compress should be used when the eyelids are closed. A homemade compress can be created out of a clean cloth fabric soaked in warm water and wrung out. 
Controlling viral conjunctivitis also involves practicing good hygiene. The individual is advised to do the following:

  • Not to touch or rub the eyes
  • Maintain hand hygiene by using warm water and soap. People should wash up immediately if they have touched an infected person’s eyes or clothes. 
  • Change towels and washcloths daily and avoid sharing them with other people
  • Do away with eye cosmetics, especially mascara
  • Avoid sharing eye cosmetics 
  • Follow the doctor’s instructions on the care needed for contacts 
  • Avoid using the same eye prescription for the uninfected eye
  • Avoid re-infection by discarding eye makeup and contact lens solutions.  Also discard contact lenses and cases

Prognosis/Long-term outlook

Viral conjunctivitis is highly contagious. It can be quickly spread from one person to another. It is highly likely for an outbreak of the disease to occur in a certain area.
Prompt evaluation and treatment can help to reduce the risk of complications. 
Viral conjunctivitis can cause inflammation in the cornea, consequently affecting vision.

Prevention/Follow Up

Observing proper eye hygiene may help prevent viral conjunctivitis. 
There are certain vaccines that also protect against some viral diseases associated with conjunctivitis. These diseases include rubella, measles, chickenpox, shingles, pneumococcal and influenza type B.