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Eye Infection, Viral

What is a viral eye infection?

A viral eye infection is caused by a virus. This condition is also called pink eye or viral conjunctivitis.

Your child may have:

  • Redness of the white part of the eye (sclera)
  • Redness of the inner eyelids
  • Puffy eyelids
  • A watery eye.

What is the cause?

Red eyes are usually caused by a viral infection and they often occur when a child has a cold. If a bacterial infection occurs, discharge from the eyes becomes yellow and the eyelids are often matted together after sleeping. If this happens, your child needs antibiotic eye drops even if the eyes are not red.

How long does it last?

Viral conjunctivitis usually lasts as long as the cold (1 to 2 weeks). If only one eye is red, the other eye will usually become infected over the next few days.

How can I take care of my child?

  • Rinse out with water: Rinse the eyes with warm water as often as possible, at least every 1 or 2 hours while your child is awake. Use a fresh, wet cotton ball each time. This rinsing usually will keep a bacterial infection from occurring.
  • Eye drops: A viral infection is not helped by antibiotic eye drops, so they are not recommended. Artificial tears eye drops may reduce symptoms.
  • Contagiousness: Pink eye is harmless and mildly contagious. Children with viral conjunctivitis do not need to miss any day care or school. Pinkeye is not a public health risk and keeping these children home is over-reacting.

When should I call my child's healthcare provider?


  • The eyelids become very red or swollen.
  • Your child develops blurred vision or eye pain.

Call within 24 hours if:

  • A yellow discharge develops.
  • The redness lasts more than 7 days.
  • You have other concerns or questions.
Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick,” American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Pediatric Advisor 2018.1 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2011-06-07
Last reviewed: 2017-06-05
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2018 Barton D. Schmitt, MD FAAP. All rights reserved.
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