About Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)

Conjunctivitis (pink eye) is caused by viruses, bacteria, allergens, and irritants. Viral conjunctivitis is the most common and is much more prevalent and contagious. It causes inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin layer that lines the inside of the eyelid and covers the white part of the eye. For most people, pink eye resolves on its own and requires only self-care.

How is it transmitted?

Conjunctivitis is spread by direct contact with discharge from the eye or secretions from the upper respiratory tract of infected persons. Transmission can occur by touching your eyes or from contaminated clothing, towels, pillowcases, and other items coming into close contact with the eyes (e.g. contact lenses, make-up applicators, multiple dose eye medication applicators, etc.).

Signs and Symptoms

Signs of conjunctivitis may include redness, crusting on the eye lids or lashes, excessive eye tearing, itching or burning, and discharge or pus of one or both eyes. Typically, cold or upper respiratory symptoms are present.


Most cases of conjunctivitis are mild and get better on their own, even without treatment. Self-care treatment options include:

  • Warm/cool compresses
  • Saline drops such as artificial tears
  • Refrain from contact lens use until symptoms resolve
  • Practice good hygiene

You should see a healthcare provider if your symptoms include:

  • severe pain
  • severe sensitivity to light
  • weakened immune system
  • blurred vision (not caused by discharge)
  • thick discharge 
  • pre-existing eye conditions
  • symptoms that worsen or do not improve after 5 days

If you suspect you have conjunctivitis, call Student Health Service 215-746-3535 and press option 3 to talk with a nurse about your symptoms.


 To avoid re-infection:

  • Discard any make-up, disposable contact lenses, contact lens solution bottles and cases
  • Disinfect eye glasses, eye glass cases, extended wear contact lenses, and contact lens cases
  • Launder clothes, towels and pillow cases

Practice good hand hygiene:

  • Avoid touching or rubbing your eyes
  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol
  • Wash your hands if you touch or rub your eyes, and after applying eye drops or compresses

 Practice good self-care:

  • Gently wipe any discharge from your eye using disposable tissues
  • Use warm or cold-water soaked paper towels on your eyes  (separate one for each eye) to reduce discomfort and then dispose of the towel after use
  • Use lubricating eye drops (artificial tears) as often as you like
  • Clean your glasses and dispose of, or wash, the towels you used to clean them

Avoid sharing:

  • Towels, blankets, pillowcases, make-up, make-up brushes, eye drops, contact lenses and containers, and eye glasses with friends, roommates, or partners




Back to Disease Updates

(updated 02/13/2017)