Viral vs. Bacterial Conjunctivitis: Differences Worth Knowing

One of the extremely widespread and common disorders pertaining to the eye is the Conjunctivitis, or as it is commonly called the Pink Eye condition. In conjunctivitis, there is inflammation of the transparent membrane that covers the white part of the eye called the conjunctiva and the inner most part of the eyelid. It is this infection that makes the eye extremely pink in color, which becomes its most noticeable symptom and thus the name ‘Pink Eye’. The cause of such an infection can either be infectious or non-infectious. The more common cause is infectious, which include the viral, the bacterial or the fungal infections; whereas the non-infectious causes of the same include allergies, foreign bodies or exposure to chemicals.

There are mainly the viral and the bacterial conjunctivitis, which affect dominantly, and it is important to understand the basic differences between these two types of infection to make sure that the diagnosis and the treatment are on point.

Viral Vs. Bacterial Conjunctivitis: Differences Based on Causes

Viral Vs. Bacterial Conjunctivitis: Differences Based on Causes

Viral Conjunctivitis: This type of conjunctivitis mainly arises from air borne viruses, which spread through coughing or sneezing, and can catch anyone irrespective of coming in contact with an affected person or surface. Such an infection may also expose the body to common upper respiratory infections, such as measles, flu or common cold.

Bacterial Conjunctivitis: This type of conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria that infect the eye through different means of contamination. In most cases the bacteria are spread through coming in contact with an infected person, or exposure to other contaminated surfaces. Other infections such as sinus or ear infection can also lead to Bacterial Conjunctivitis. The most common types of bacteria that causes Conjunctivitis include Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, Corynebacterium, Haemophilus, Pseudomonas, and Moraxella species.

Viral Vs. Bacterial Conjunctivitis: Symptoms Which Are Common To Both Bacterial & Viral Conjunctivitis

There are certain symptoms that are common among both Bacterial as well as Viral Conjunctivitis and these symptoms are redness and tearing of the eyes, irritation, burning, light sensitivity or discomfort in the eyes.

However, the discharge is completely different in Bacterial & Viral Conjunctivitis.

Viral Vs. Bacterial Conjunctivitis: Differences Based on

Discharges of Bacterial & Viral Conjunctivitis

Discharge in Viral Conjunctivitis: The discharge in Viral Conjunctivitis is usually watery and transparent in color; unlike the thick discharge of bacterial conjunctivitis. Usually, Viral Conjunctivitis starts in one eye and then spreads to the other eye. In Viral Conjunctivitis, the third and the fifth days are the worst, after which the eye starts improving on its own.

Discharge in Bacterial Conjunctivitis: The discharge in Bacterial Conjunctivitis is purulent in nature and contains pus. Therefore, the discharge of bacterial conjunctivitis is thicker than the discharge of viral conjunctivitis. Bacterial conjunctivitis discharge may be white, green or yellow in color. The patient has difficulty opening their eye lids after keeping them closed for a long duration such as sleeping and the eyelids seem glued together in Bacterial Conjunctivitis. The symptoms pertain until medication is provided in case of Bacterial Conjunctivitis, as it is necessary to induce anti-bodies to fight the bacteria.

Viral Vs. Bacterial Conjunctivitis: Differences Based on


When the patient is suffering from a Viral Conjunctivitis, the infection usually starts in one eye and then spreads to the other eye. Since this infection is caused by a virus, nothing can be done much in the way of treatment and the infection runs its course and subsides on its own. Whereas, if the patient is suffering from Bacterial Conjunctivitis, then topical antibiotics are prescribed to fight the infection and cure Bacterial Conjunctivitis.

The Different Treatments In Bacterial And Viral Conjunctivitis

Treatment for Viral Conjunctivitis: Unlike bacterial conjunctivitis, treatment for viral conjunctivitis is fairly basic and no amount of anti-bodies will cure this infection. Viral conjunctivitis is self-limited and abates on its own within a short period. The treatment that is suggested in such a case includes basic techniques like the application of cold compress to soothe the irritation from viral conjunctivitis. In case of extreme discomfort, eye drops might be prescribed to tone down the symptoms a notch, but a viral infection cannot be cured through medicines and will take its time to perish. Artificial tears and topical antihistamines may be suggested. Just as in bacterial conjunctivitis, extreme hygiene standards are needed for viral conjunctivitis too, as viral conjunctivitis also spreads through coming in contact with contaminated substances.

Treatment for Bacterial Conjunctivitis: The mainstay of treatment in case of bacterial infection is topical antibiotics which are administered through eye drops or eye ointments. Such eye drops/ointments have antibiotic properties.The application of the antibiotics is done on the insides of the eye lids at least three to four times in a day. The patient should complete the course of the medication even when the symptoms have been cured, to make sure that the bacteria have been completely eradicated. In addition to the above, maintaining strict hygiene with respect to the eyes including washing hands at regular intervals is also a must.

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:December 19, 2017

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