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HealthInfo West Coast-Te Tai Poutini


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Conjunctivitis (also called pink eye or sticky eye) is an inflammation of the outer layer of your eye, which is called the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is a thin, clear tissue that covers the white of your eye (called the sclera) and the inside of your eyelid.

If your conjunctiva is inflamed, the small blood vessels inside it widen, making your eye look red or pink. But other things can also cause red or pink eyes, so if you aren't sure what is causing yours, see your general practice team, optometrist or ophthalmologist (specialist eye doctor).


Conjunctivitis in newborn babies can be serious. If your baby has conjunctivitis take them to a doctor immediately.

Types of conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis

This is caused by allergies and can be seasonal, occurring at certain times of the year (when due to pollen or grasses) or ongoing (when caused by allergens such as dust mite or pets). Allergic conjunctivitis is not infectious or contagious. Read more about allergic conjunctivitis.

Viral conjunctivitis

This is often caused by the same virus that causes the common cold. The herpes simplex virus that causes cold sores is another possible cause. Viral conjunctivitis usually begins in one eye, then affects the other eye within 24 to 48 hours. It tends to cause a thin watery or white mucous discharge and may be accompanied by symptoms of a cold.

Bacterial conjunctivitis

This is caused by a bacterial infection and is common in pēpi (babies) and tamariki (children). Typical symptoms include a sticky yellow or green discharge, most noticeable on waking up.

Other types

Inflammation of the conjunctiva can also be caused by direct contact with irritant chemicals such as cosmetics, chlorine from swimming pools or preservatives (even some in eye drops). People who wear contact lenses can get eye irritation due to the lens or contact lens solutions, and are more likely to get eye infections.

Symptoms of conjunctivitis

Symptoms of conjunctivitis vary. You may have one or more of the following:

Discharge or more fluid from your eye is also common. It's often yellow or green if you have an infection, but it can be clear or white. Allergies often cause watery eyes.

Conjunctivitis can affect one eye or both of your eyes.

Your vision is not usually affected. Your vision might be slightly blurred because of discharge at the front of your eye. But this clears when you blink. If your vision is blurred and doesn't clear when you blink, get your eyes checked urgently to find out what the cause is.

Diagnosing conjunctivitis

You can often diagnose conjunctivitis yourself from the symptoms you have. But you need to see your general practice team or optometrist if:

Treating conjunctivitis

The treatment will depend on what is causing your conjunctivitis and how severe it is.

Sometimes no treatment is needed as the eye will get better by itself.

On the next page: Treating conjunctivitis

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed March 2023.


Page reference: 49685

Review key: HICJC-49685