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Viral vs Bacterial Pink Eye: How to Know The Difference

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Have you ever had pink eye and wondered if it is viral or bacterial?

It is not uncommon to be confused between the different types of pink eye.

Making a clear distinction between viral and bacterial pink eye without medical assistance can be overwhelming.

Although it is best to consult with a certified doctor, they may help to know the basic differences between these two eye infections.

In this viral vs bacterial pink eye comparison guide, we will talk about the symptoms, causes, and treatment options of both these infections.

Understanding The Types of Pink Eye

There are mainly three types of pink eye– viral, bacterial, and allergic.

Out of all these three types, bacterial and viral pink eye are highly contagious.

Viral pink eye is caused by viruses and generally resolves on its own in 2-3 days.

Bacterial pink eye results from bacterial infections in the eye and resolves within a week with the help of medical assistance.

Therefore, it is important to have a deeper understanding of these two eye infections to treat them effectively.

Let us discuss viral and bacterial pink eye differences based on their causes, symptoms, and treatment methods.

Want to study more about the contagiousness of pink eye and how fast pink eye spreads? To learn everything, read Is Pink Eye Contagious – All You Need to Know.

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  • Viral vs Bacterial Pink Eye: Differences in Their Causes

    Eye-Redness-and-PainSource: Pixelshot
    Conjunctivitis (Bacterial Pink Eye)

    Viral and bacterial pink eye significantly differ in their causes.

    About three in every four pink eye patients have viral pink eye.

    It is often caused by common cold viruses, such as Adenovirus or Herpes.

    Adenovirus is responsible for upto 90% of the viral pink eye infections.

    On the other hand, bacterial pink eye is usually caused by bacteria such as Haemophilus Influenzae, Streptococcus Pneumoniae, and Moraxella Catarrhalis.

    These bacteria are more likely to affect children and older people.

    To learn more about the different types of bacteria responsible for pink eye, read Finding The Answer: What Bacteria Causes Pink Eye.

    It is important to note that both viral and bacterial pink eye spreads through direct contact.

    Therefore, proper preventive measures such as keeping distance and washing hands frequently are necessary to prevent the spread of these infections.

    Viral vs Bacterial Pink Eye: Differences in Their Symptoms

    Watery-red-eyes-from-spring-allergies-Source: Siganture_image
    Watery red eyes (spring allergies)

    The initial symptoms of viral pink eye and bacterial pink eye are quite similar.

    These include red eyes, dry eyes, irritation, gritty feeling, eye discharge, and sensitivity to light.

    However, there are certain symptoms you need to look out for in order to differentiate between the two types of pink eye.

    Bacteria pink eye symptoms often include sticky yellow eye discharge or green eye discharge, whereas, in the case of viral pink eye, the discharge is usually watery and clear.

    The other differences in the symptoms of viral and bacterial Conjunctivitis are that the viral pink eye generally begins with a cold, while bacterial pink eye may start with a respiratory or ear infection.

    Differentiating between viral and bacterial pink eye can often be confusing based on their symptoms.

    Therefore, consulting a certified medical expert is necessary to diagnose your condition accurately.

    Did You Know?
    COVID-19 may have Conjunctivitis as a potential symptom, along with fever, cough, and respiratory distress.

    Viral vs Bacterial Pink Eye: Differences in Their Treatments

    Since the causes of viral and bacterial pink eye are different, their treatment methods also differ considerably.

    Viral pink eye usually relieves on its own in about 2-3 days.

    There are no proven medications for viral pink eye treatment. However, some measures may help to relieve the symptoms of viral pink eye.

    Artificial tears and warm compresses help ease the dryness and irritation caused due to viral Conjunctivitis.

    For severe conditions, your doctor might prescribe Antivirals such as Valacyclovir and Famciclovir to speed up recovery.

    In the case of bacterial pink eye treatment, doctors may prescribe Antibiotic medications for the treatment. 

    Antibiotic medications are considered effective in treating bacterial Conjunctivitis.

    With Antibiotic treatment, the symptoms begin to show improvement within 24 – 48 hours.

    It is important to consult a trusted doctor to get the correct medications for your pink eye infection.

    To know about the treatment options for pink eye in detail, read Pink Eye Treatment: Treating Conjunctivitis Effectively

    If left untreated, bacterial pink eye can lead to serious eye complications such as corneal ulcers, keratitis, or blindness.


    Viral pink eye and bacterial pink are the two common types of pink eyes.

    Understanding the distinctions between viral and bacterial pink eye is important, as these two eye infections can often lead to confusion.

    Viral pink eye is caused by viruses such as Herpes or Adenovirus and typically resolves on its own within 2-3 days. 

    Its symptoms include watery and clear discharge, along with cold-like symptoms.

    On the other hand, bacterial pink eye is caused by bacteria, such as Haemophilus Influenzae, Streptococcus Pneumoniae, and Moraxella catarrhalis, and may resolve within a week. 

    Bacterial pink eye infection often involves a sticky yellow or green discharge.

    While viral pink eye typically resolves independently, bacterial pink eye benefits from Antibiotic treatment that can speed up the recovery.

    Remember, both viral and bacterial pink eye infections are highly contagious and spread through direct contact.

    Therefore, it is important to follow certain preventive measures to minimize the spread of these eye infections.

    In all cases, consulting a trusted healthcare provider is essential to receive accurate diagnosis and treatment.

    Depending on your eye condition, your doctor may prescribe appropriate medications for your pink eye.

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    Frequently Asked Questions

    How to tell if pink eye is viral or bacterial?

    The eye discharge associated with the infection may help differentiate between viral and bacterial pink eye. Bacterial pink eye often causes sticky yellow or green discharge, while viral eye discharge is clear and watery. However, it is best to consult a doctor for an accurate diagnosis of your eye condition.

    Can I use the same eye drops for both viral and bacterial pink eye?

    No, you should not use the same eye drops for viral and bacterial pink eye. Both these infections have different causes and have different treatment products. Therefore, it is best to consult a doctor for accurate and effective treatment of your pink eye.

    Is viral pink eye more contagious than bacterial pink eye?

    Yes, viral pink eye might be more contagious than bacterial pink eye in some aspects. Viruses such as Adenovirus might transfer easily through respiratory vapors when compared to bacteria.

    Can viral pink eye turn into bacterial pink eye?

    No, viral pink eye cannot directly turn into bacterial pink eye. These two pink eye infections have distinct causes and, therefore, cannot lead to other types of infections.

    Is viral pink eye worse than bacterial pink eye?

    No, viral pink eye is not necessarily worse than bacterial pink eye. However, due to the absence of effective medications, viral pink eye may cause prolonged eye discomfort compared to bacterial pink eye.

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    Photo of author Janet Fudge
    Janet Fudge is a highly skilled and experienced pharmacologist who serves as a contributing writer for With a strong academic background from a premier US University and a passion for helping others, Janet has become a trusted voice in the pharmaceutical world. After completing her Doctor of Pharmacy degree, Janet embarked on a successful career in the pharmaceutical industry, working with various clients, including hospitals, retail pharmacies, and drug manufacturers. Her in-depth knowledge of pharmacology and dedication to patient-centered care has led her to excel in her field. As a writer for, Janet uses her wealth of expertise to provide readers with accurate, reliable, and up-to-date information on various topics related to medicine and healthcare. Her engaging writing style and ability to break down complex topics into easily digestible content make her a valuable resource for healthcare professionals and the general public.
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