Viral vs. bacterial pink eye

Conjunctivitis (commonly known as pink eye) is a very common condition affecting both children and adults. It occurs when the conjunctiva – the thin membrane lining the inner surface of the eyelids and the white part of the eyeball – becomes infected and inflamed.

The name pink eye refers to the pinkish hue the eye has when infection has occurred. Patients with conjunctivitis will often have itchy, painful, runny or swollen eyes. There may also be pus present. 

Viral and bacterial pink eye are the two most common forms of the condition. Although many of the symptoms are very similar, as a competent healthcare professional it’s important you can distinguish between the two.


Viral and bacterial pink eye: The key differences

Viral pink eye is the most common type and is, according to NICE, responsible for around 80% of cases in the UK. It is usually caused by adenoviruses, which are the same group of viruses that cause the common cold. Patients with viral pink eye are also therefore likely to show cold symptoms at the same time.

Viral pink eye is easily spread between family members as it’s highly contagious. However, it tends to clear up on its own within a few days to a couple of weeks.

Bacterial pink eye is caused by an infection with bacteria like Streptococcus pneumonia or Staphylococcus aureus. Patients with bacterial conjunctivitis should be prescribed antibiotics to clear the infection, which should take effect within 24 hours.

Regardless of the type of conjunctivitis your patient is displaying, it’s important that they keep the area clean and avoid touching it.


Are you a healthcare professional looking to understand more about common ear and eye conditions?

Why not brush up your skills with our half-day CPD course Minor ailments: ear and eye conditions for the primary care practitioner. Aimed specifically at nurses, NMPs, pharmacists, paramedics and other allied healthcare professionals, this programme helps get you up to speed with common ear and eye conditions.

Held entirely online, it’s the ideal opportunity to build up your skills and knowledge. It’s also flexible, informative and interactive, and is worth 4 hours of CPD.

Don’t forget our Minor ailments essentials course too. Again held online (although this time over 3 days), it offers the ideal chance for healthcare practitioners to hone their history taking and examination skills. Plus you’ll earn a valuable 21 hours’ CPD with all course materials, evaluations and a certificate included.

All of PDUK’s high quality courses are led by experts in their field, providing outstanding learning that truly benefits your patients. Spaces fill up quickly though so book today to avoid disappointment!

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