There are two ways you can get pink eye: through exposure to contagious microorganisms and as a result of an allergic reaction or irritation triggered by chemical substances and foreign objects. The microorganisms that can cause pink eye are adenoviruses and certain bacteria strains that can be transferred to your eyes through:
A handshake with a friend who is unknowingly affected and then touching your eyes afterward
Touching surfaces infected with bacteria or viruses, such as doorknobs, computer equipment, and other furniture or household items
Sharing towels with other people
Sharing cosmetic products and brushes1
Spending an extended amount of time in crowded places, such as day care centers, summer camps and schools2
Bacteria in the birth canal may transfer to an infant’s eyes (a condition known as neonatal conjunctivitis) during childbirth
Below are the risk factors associated with noncontagious pink eye:3
Exposure to allergens such as dust and pollen
Shampoo getting into your eyes
Chlorinated water in swimming pools
Foreign objects lodged in the eye, such as an eyelash
Smoke from a vehicle exhaust
Incorrect use of contact lenses4
It’s Possible for Pink Eye to Become an Airborne Disease
It’s common knowledge that when you sneeze, the ejected droplets contain viruses or bacteria that can infect any unlucky person nearby. But did you know the extent of the infection that a sneeze can cause?
A single sneeze contains millions of microorganisms, propelled to a distance of over 32 feet. That’s a lot of distance, and a lot of people you can infect, which is why covering your mouth is important when sneezing or coughing.5 Poor sneezing etiquette allows pink eye to become airborne.
Sneezing into the crook of your elbow or on your sleeve to prevent droplets from spreading to others is a technique that may come in handy in dire situations, such as if you’re on public transportation. This minimizes the spread of germs, because you don’t usually touch your elbows.6
What Happens When Pink Eye-Causing Microorganisms Land on Your Eyes?
When bacteria or viruses end up in your eyes, the incubation period can range anywhere from two days to two weeks.7 During this period, you’re not contagious, but once the symptoms appear, you can easily spread the disease to others.
To prevent the infection from spreading, it’s important to wash your hands often and avoid direct contact with people until the inflammation clears. You should also refrain from swimming with an active eye infection.
By implementing strict hygiene practices, you can prevent pink eye from causing an outbreak in your household and community, a condition known as epidemic keratoconjunctivitis.