Are you able to go to work with pink eye?

What should you do about conjunctivitis if you have work commitments? Aside from one or both eyes appearing pink and you may have some discharge, you often feel fine otherwise. You know you could achieve a lot at work, but should you go in with conjunctivitis?

The answer to this question depends on the type of conjunctivitis you have. Pink eye occurs when the transparent conjunctiva that covers the white part of the eye (dermis) catches fire.

pink eye (conjunctivitis) can be contagious through bacterial or viral pathogens. Or it can be caused by non-contagious sources like allergies or chemicals (like chlorine in pool water). If you have non-contagious conjunctivitis, you can go to work. With contagious conjunctivitis, that’s a different story.

This article covers how contagious conjunctivitis is, whether that means you should stay home (and for how long), and other important information for navigating the work of managing contagious conjunctivitis.

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Should You Stay Home If You Have Conjunctivitis?

You need to speak to a healthcare provider about staying home. If conjunctivitis is your only symptom and you are afebrile, the healthcare provider (an eye doctor, family doctor, or other healthcare professional) can tell you to go to work.

If you have a fever or have a job that puts you in close contact with others who can easily spread conjunctivitis, your doctor may tell you to stay home.

Know the pink eye guy

It is important to know what type of conjunctivitis you are dealing with. Both bacterial and viral conjunctivitis are contagious. But pink eyes from allergies like pollen or irritants like chlorine aren’t contagious and can’t be passed on to others.

How contagious is Pink Eye?

Both bacterial and viral conjunctivitis are extremely contagious. If you have it, you can easily share it with everyone who comes into contact with you, including your co-workers. That’s why it’s important not to go to work. While there are ways to minimize the spread of conjunctivitis, you can still spread the infection while it’s active.

How Does Pink Eye Spread?

There are several ways that contagious conjunctivitis can spread. If you have this condition, you can spread it by:

  • Coughing or sneezing near another person
  • Shaking hands or just touching someone, especially after touching your eye
  • Touch your eye and then touch a surface like a desk or doorknob, or an object like a pen

There are some steps you can take to minimize the spread. These include:

  • Keep your hands away from your eyes.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly if you need to touch the eye for any reason. Try lathering your hands with warm water for at least 20 seconds every time you wash them. If you accidentally touch your eye while out and about, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol to clean your hands.
  • When cleaning the crust or discharge from your eyes, use a fresh, warm, damp washcloth or new cotton ball each time. Immediately clean the washcloth in hot water with dish soap and then wash your hands thoroughly.
  • Avoid wearing contact lenses, which inherently require you to touch your eye.
  • Keep separate items that are usually shared, such as towels and sheets. Avoid anything that might touch the eye, like drops or makeup.
  • Stay away from swimming.

How long is pink eye contagious?

Unfortunately, if your eye is red or other symptoms persist, it is still contagious. It usually takes about five to seven days to fix. It is possible to reduce this time if you have bacterial conjunctivitis and take antibiotics. You are still contagious for about 24 hours after you start antibiotics.

Pink eye treatment

Conjunctivitis is one of those conditions that luckily progresses over time. Bacterial conjunctivitis usually goes away within two to five days. Sometimes it can take up to two weeks for it to run its course.

When you have viral conjunctivitis, it usually takes about a week or two to clear up on its own, but it can take up to three weeks.

treatment at home

There are some home remedies and over-the-counter (OTC) remedies that can help with your conjunctivitis. These approaches include:

  • Put artificial tears in your eyes to soothe your eyes and make them feel less dry.
  • Use OTC pain relievers like Advil (ibuprofen) to relieve discomfort
  • Apply a warm, wet compress to soothe your eyes. Hold this in place until it cools. You can also use this to remove crusting around your lashes. Be sure to use a clean, fresh cloth each time.

Medical treatment

If you have bacterial conjunctivitis, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic ointment or drops to speed recovery and reduce the risk of infection. Your doctor may consider antibiotics if:

  • You are someone who is immunocompromised.
  • There is a lot of mucus or discharge.
  • Your doctor is concerned that a specific bacterium could be the cause.

Remember that antibiotics will not help if you have viral conjunctivitis. If you have conjunctivitis caused by a herpes simplex virus (HSV), which can be associated with cold sores or genital herpes, or the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), which is responsible for chickenpox, your doctor may prescribe you prescribe antiviral drugs. Otherwise, the conjunctivitis can simply take its course.

Pink Eye Prevention

Unfortunately, bacterial and viral conjunctivitis tend to be very contagious. Keep in mind that the pathogen can remain on surfaces for up to two weeks. Still, there are some things you can do to avoid conjunctivitis. The following steps are to be taken:

  • Keep your hands clean by either washing them frequently with soap and water or using hand sanitizer in a pinch.
  • Be careful not to rub or touch your eyes.
  • Wash bed linens and towels frequently and avoid sharing products that someone with the infection may have used.


Because some forms of conjunctivitis are contagious, it’s important to stay home until your doctor says otherwise. Bacterial and viral conjunctivitis can be spread by particles in the air after a cough or sneeze, as well as by germs on a surface like a desk or doorknob.

Expect to remain contagious for as long as the eye is red, which should take about a week for it to clear up. You may also be able to speed up recovery with treatment.

A word from Verywell

It can be frustrating to have a case of conjunctivitis when you’re needed at work. But unless your doctor says otherwise, you should stay home until it’s resolved. It’s a highly contagious condition and not one you want to unnecessarily spread.

frequently asked Questions

  • How long is conjunctivitis contagious?

    As long as you have symptoms like red eyes, your conjunctivitis is contagious. It will probably be five to seven days before you are not contagious. If you have bacterial conjunctivitis and are taking antibiotics, it is contagious about 24 hours after the antibiotics start.

  • How can you tell if conjunctivitis is bacterial or viral?

    Talk to a doctor to find out what the most likely cause is. Your pink eye may be from a viral source if you’re also battling a cold or other respiratory condition, or if you notice that the eye discharge is watery.

    If you currently have an ear infection at the same time as conjunctivitis, it is likely caused by bacteria. Also, the mucus is thick rather than watery.

  • What is commonly misdiagnosed as conjunctivitis?

    Seasonal allergies, which can come on suddenly and cause redness and tearing, can be mistaken for viral or bacterial conjunctivitis. If you get this around this time every year, it may help to rule it out.

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