Allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious, but other types of conjunctivitis, such as viral or bacterial, are. People can take steps to prevent transmission of the contagious types.

These steps include regularly washing the hands, avoiding touching the eye, and not sharing personal items that touch the eyes, such as towels.

People with allergic conjunctivitis cannot transmit it to other individuals.

Keep reading to learn more about why allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious, how to tell if it is another type of conjunctivitis, and the available treatments.

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Conjunctivitis is the inflammation of tissue that covers the front of the eye and the inside of the eyelid. This tissue is known as the conjunctiva.

There are several types of conjunctivitis, including:

  • allergic conjunctivitis, which is the result of an allergic reaction
  • viral conjunctivitis, which is the most common type, and is the result of a viral illness such as a cold
  • bacterial conjunctivitis, which occurs due to a bacterial infection

Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis, which some refer to as “pink eye,” are contagious because they are the result of microbes that can transmit from one person to another.

Allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious because allergies are the result of a person’s immune system mistakenly reacting to something that is not dangerous, such as pollen or dust. People cannot transmit allergies to others.

That said, allergies can run in families, so family members may experience allergic conjunctivitis at the same time. This may give the appearance of it being contagious when it is not.

The symptoms of each type of conjunctivitis can be fairly similar. Each one can cause:

  • eye redness
  • eye watering or tearing
  • a burning sensation
  • irritation or a “gritty” feeling in the eye

However, there are some key differences. The table below compares the types:

AllergicViral conjunctivitisBacterial conjunctivitis
Symptoms– watery discharge
– itchiness
– other allergy symptoms, such as an itchy throat, sneezing, or sinus pain
dark circles under the eyes
– watery discharge
– light sensitivity
– other symptoms of a viral illness, such as a stuffy or runny nose, headaches, tiredness, or a cough
– thicker white or yellow discharge
– crust around the eye
Eyes affectedtypically both eyestypically starts in one eye and spreads to the othermay start in one eye or spread to both
Visionusually clearmay or may not be blurryoften blurry or cloudy
Durationas long as exposure to the allergen lastsusually resolves on its own in up to 3 weekscan resolve on its own in 1–2 weeks, but sometimes requires topical antibiotics

The type of conjunctivitis a person has may be apparent from their symptoms. However, if they are unsure, a person may need to speak with a doctor.

To diagnose conjunctivitis, a doctor may ask the individual questions about when the symptoms began and about their medical history. They may also examine the eye area.

If there is concern about damage to the cornea, a doctor may use a special stain to determine if there are any abrasions. If the doctor believes the cause is an allergen, they may refer the person for allergy testing.

Alternatively, they may be able to determine the allergen based on when their symptoms begin. For example, a person may only experience the irritation when they are playing with a pet, which could suggest an animal dander allergy.

Sometimes, people can prevent allergic conjunctivitis entirely by identifying and avoiding the allergen that triggers the symptoms. They can:

  • wash their hands often with soap, especially after contact with an allergen
  • avoid touching their eyes, as this worsens the symptoms
  • regularly wash items that come near their eyes, such as pillowcases and bed linens
  • apply cool compresses to soothe irritation

Depending on the allergy, it may also help for people to:

  • use allergy covers or encasements for soft furnishings
  • keep pets out of the bedroom
  • dust surfaces using damp cloths or mops rather than dry dusting
  • keep the home well ventilated to reduce humidity and potential mold growth
  • close windows on days with a high pollen count
  • use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter
  • use an air filter at home

When avoidance is not possible or the allergen is unknown, a doctor may suggest further treatments that can help manage the symptoms, such as:

  • Eye drops: Several types of eye drops may help with allergic conjunctivitis. Saline eye drops can wash away allergens. Other eye drops can lubricate the eye and reduce irritation, while medicated options can calm the inflammation.
  • Medications: If a person has allergy symptoms that affect the nose, throat, or other parts of the body, a doctor may suggest medications. For example, antihistamines block histamine, which is a chemical the body releases during an allergic reaction.
  • Immunotherapy: This treatment involves exposing a person to an allergen gradually over time so that the immune system no longer reacts to it. Doctors can deliver it via injection or with a pill under the tongue, which is known as sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT). Injections work well for pollen, dust, dander, and stinging insect allergies, while SLIT is available for grass, ragweed, and dust mite allergies.

If a newborn develops conjunctivitis for any reason, parents or caregivers should consult a doctor immediately rather than trying to treat it at home.

Allergic conjunctivitis can last for as long as a person is in contact with an allergen. If the exposure was short, the inflammation should calm down with time. If the exposure is ongoing, a person may have chronic symptoms.

Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about allergic conjunctivitis.

Is allergic conjunctivitis serious?

Allergic conjunctivitis is usually not serious. It rarely causes lasting damage to the eyes, and it is not life threatening.

However, allergies can cause significant discomfort and affect quality of life. There are also some more serious forms of conjunctivitis, such as vernal conjunctivitis and atopic keratoconjunctivitis, which can affect vision without treatment.

Can you work with allergic conjunctivitis?

This depends on the individual. If their symptoms affect their ability to do their job and they do not respond to treatment, then allergic conjunctivitis may affect their career.

Otherwise, a person does not need to stay out of work due to allergic conjunctivitis. The condition usually does not affect vision, and it generally has a good prognosis.

Can you have allergic conjunctivitis in one eye?

Allergic conjunctivitis typically affects both eyes. However, if an allergen such as a pet hair has gotten into only one eye, it is possible that a person might have inflammation on one side.

Allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious, but other types of conjunctivitis are. The term “conjunctivitis” refers to inflammation of the tissue lining the eyelid and front of the eye, which can occur for several reasons, including infections.

If a person is certain the cause of their conjunctivitis is an allergen, then rinsing the eyes, using eye drops, or taking antihistamines may help. Avoiding the allergen, if possible, may also help prevent symptoms.

If a person is not certain of the cause of their conjunctivitis, they should take precautions to prevent transmission. They should seek medical advice if the symptoms do not get better, are severe, keep coming back, or affect sight.