Pink eye is a highly contagious disease if the underlying cause is a bacterial or a viral infection. In some cases though, it is non-contagious. This applies when the cause of inflammation is exposure to chemical products or foreign objects like smoke or dirt entering your eye.
The Incubation Period of Pink Eye
The incubation period of pink eye depends on the source of the inflammation (viruses, bacteria, chemicals, or allergies). This matter is complicated further by the variant of the cause that infects your eye.
For example, different strains of viruses have different incubation periods. Vehicle smoke may affect your eyes differently from chemical vapors, and so on.
There’s really no definite period of time before symptoms of pink eye appear, but it is agreed that it usually takes anywhere from 12 hours to three days for viral conjunctivitis to manifest.
If pink eye is caused by bacteria, the incubation period is usually between one to three days.1 Depending on other environmental factors, the period may even take up to 14 days.2
Contagiousness of Pink Eye During the Incubation Period
The viruses and bacteria that cause pink eye can spread easily, but during the incubation period, you won’t be able to infect people yet. However, be cautious as once the symptoms start to appear, you are automatically contagious and should therefore seek treatment right away before the condition worsens.
The duration of the contagiousness depends on the source as well. If you’ve been infected by bacteria, you’re immediately contagious once symptoms appear, and continue to be so for one whole day after treatment.
If the cause is a virus, you’re contagious throughout the duration of the disease and you’ll have to let it take its course, which is usually around two weeks.3
The Early Signs of Pink Eye
As the incubation ends, the first signs of pink eye will start to appear, such as:4
• The feeling of a foreign object invading your eyes
• Discharge of pus or mucus
• Heavy crusting of eyelids in the morning after waking up
• Contact lenses that feel uncomfortable to use or do not work properly
• Reddening of the white area of the eyes
If you’ve contracted an adenovirus, you may also develop symptoms of the cold or a flu as well. These include coughing, a sore throat, headaches, muscle aches, runny nose and fever.
Preventing Pink Eye From Spreading
As the symptoms of pink eye start to fully manifest, there are certain things you can do to help prevent it from infecting your other eye, especially if the cause is a virus. Viral pink eye has to run its course, because there are no available treatments for it.5
One of the most important things you can do is to be mindful when sneezing or coughing. That means you should cover your mouth and nose to prevent droplets from landing to your other eye and infecting your surroundings.6 You should wash your hands often as well, especially if you touch your eyes often. This will help prevent the spread of the virus or bacteria. Similarly, you should wash your pillow cases and bed sheets with warm water to regularly eliminate bacteria and viruses.7