Discharge is a typical symptom of pink eye. In viral pink eye, the discharge may be watery and thin, whereas in bacterial pink eye, it is more likely to be thick and sticky.

Other symptoms include pain and eyes that are red, watery, scratchy, or irritated.

Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is an infection of the tissue covering the eye and the inside of the eyelid. It can occur due to bacteria, viruses, or allergens. Viruses are the most common cause.

In this article, we will discuss pink eye discharge, whether it is common, what it looks like, how to get rid of it, and treatment options.

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Yes, discharge is a common symptom of pink eye, or conjunctivitis. The discharge itself, and the area around the eye, is contagious. The infection can begin in one eye and then spread to the other.

However, the type and color of the discharge can differ depending on the cause.

For viral and allergic pink eye, the discharge is typically clear and watery. For people with bacterial pink eye, the discharge is usually thick, yellowish to greenish, and contains pus. It may stick the eyelashes together and cause crusting.

However, some types of bacterial pink eye may not cause much discharge, so this symptom alone is not always a reliable indicator of which type a person has.

Other common symptoms of pink eye are:

  • redness of the eye
  • swelling of the eyelids
  • itching and burning
  • blurry vision, due to discharge
  • pain

Viral conjunctivitis is the most common type, and it can spread easily in schools and other crowded places. Depending on the virus, a person may also have cold or flu-like symptoms, such as a runny nose or sore throat.

Bacterial conjunctivitis is less common and can sometimes occur along with an ear infection.

People can get rid of pink eye discharge by carefully cleaning the eye. This will not treat the infection itself, but it can reduce discomfort. To do this:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water.
  2. Use a moist cotton ball or pad to gently wipe discharge from the eyes.
  3. Dispose of the cotton ball or pad.
  4. Pat the area dry using a clean cotton pad and dispose of that.
  5. Wash your hands again.

Do not reuse things that have touched the infected eye. This may spread the infection from one eye to the other or to other people.

Pink eye discharge typically lasts for about 1–2 weeks. However, in most people, it starts clearing up within a few days. Consult a doctor if the discharge lasts for more than 2 weeks.

Some people are more vulnerable to infections than others. If a person has a weakened immune system, or a newborn baby develops pink eye, speak with a doctor as soon as possible.

Most instances of viral pink eye clear up on their own and do not require any treatment.

Some people may require antiviral treatment for severe cases or if they have a weakened immune system. If this is the case, people should speak with a doctor as soon as they can so they can begin treatment.

Bacterial conjunctivitis can also clear up on its own, but sometimes, a doctor may recommend antibiotic eye drops or ointments. Antibiotics can help to:

  • shorten the length of infections
  • reduce spread to others
  • reduce complications

Otherwise, treatment for pink eye involves keeping the eye clean, reducing the symptoms, and taking steps to prevent the spread. A person may find it helpful to:

  • use warm compresses on the eye
  • take an over-the-counter pain medication
  • use lubricating eye drops, if it feels dry or scratchy

To prevent the spread of conjunctivitis:

  • use clean towels or tissues for wiping the eyes and face
  • dispose of, or wash, anything that touches the eyes
  • avoid rubbing or touching the eyes, aside from when cleaning them or applying eye drops
  • wash and change pillowcases, sheets, and towels regularly
  • do not share towels, facecloths, or other items that touch the eyes with others
  • avoiding using eye makeup or contact lenses until the infection clears

People should always contact a doctor about conjunctivitis if they have a weakened immune system or if the infection is in a newborn baby.

It is also important to contact a doctor if a person develops:

  • blurry vision that does not improve after wiping the discharge from the eyes
  • sensitivity to light
  • intense eye redness or pain
  • a worsening of symptoms during or after treatment

Discharge is a typical symptom of pink eye. Bacteria, viruses, and allergies can cause it. Viral pink eye is more common and causes a thin, watery discharge. Bacterial conjunctivitis causes a thicker, stickier discharge.

People can get rid of pink eye discharge by cleaning the eyes and taking care not to spread the infection. Conjunctivitis will usually go away on its own, but it can require treatment in some people.

Speak with a doctor if the symptoms are severe, do not go away, or affect a person who may be vulnerable to severe infections.