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Viral Conjunctivitis Treatment & Management

  • Author: Ingrid U Scott, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: Hampton Roy, Sr, MD  more...
Updated: Nov 05, 2015

Approach Considerations

Treatment of adenoviral conjunctivitis is supportive. No evidence exists that demonstrates the efficacy of antiviral agents.


Symptomatic Treatment

Patients should be instructed to use cold compresses and lubricants, such as artificial tears, for comfort.

Topical vasoconstrictors and antihistamines may be used for severe itching but generally are not indicated, because they are minimally helpful and may cause rebounding of symptoms, as well as local toxicity and hypersensitivity.


Antibiotic and Topical Steroid Treatment

For patients who may be susceptible, a topical astringent or antibiotic may be used to prevent bacterial superinfection.

Topical steroids may be used for pseudomembranes or when subepithelial infiltrates impair vision, although subepithelial infiltrates may recur after discontinuing the steroids. Extreme caution should be taken when using corticosteroids, as they may worsen an underlying HSV infection.

A study by Wilkins et al focused on whether topical steroids improve the comfort of patients compared with hypromellose in acute presumed viral conjunctivitis. It found that the use of a short course of topical dexamethasone for patients with acute follicular conjunctivitis presumed to be viral in origin was not harmful.[7]


Virus-Specific Treatments

Adenoviral infection

An in vitro study using adenovirus 8 and A549 human epithelial cell cultures demonstrated that povidone-iodine at a concentration of 1:10 (0.8%) is highly effective against free adenovirus, less effective against intracellular adenoviral particles in already infected cells, and not significantly cytotoxic for healthy cells. Thus, povidone-iodine 0.8% may represent a potential option to reduce contagiousness in cases of adenoviral infections.[8]

HSV infection

Patients with conjunctivitis caused by HSV usually are treated with topical antiviral agents, including idoxuridine solution and ointment, vidarabine ointment, and trifluridine solution. An ophthalmologist should see any patient with ocular HSV infection.

VZV infection

Treatment of VZV eye disease includes oral acyclovir, 600-800 mg, 5 times daily for 7-10 days, to terminate viral replication. Topical corticosteroids usually are not indicated for conjunctivitis or keratitis.

Molluscum contagiosum

For conjunctivitis associated with molluscum contagiosum, disease will persist until the skin lesion is treated. Removal of the central core of the lesion or inducement of bleeding within the lesion usually is enough to cure the infection. Occasionally, surgical excision is required.

Considerations for other viral causes

Other viral causes of conjunctivitis generally are self-limited and treated supportively with compresses for comfort and topical antibiotics as necessary to prevent bacterial superinfection.


Treatment of Acute Hemorrhagic Conjunctivitis

Treatment of acute hemorrhagic conjunctivitis is supportive, as in adenoviral infection, and includes bed rest, cold compresses, and analgesics. Antibiotics have no useful role unless bacterial superinfection is present.


Prevention of Viral Conjunctivitis

Prevention of transmission, especially in health care facilities, is extremely important. Careful hand washing before seeing every patient, proper cleansing of instruments, and frequent changing of multiuse ophthalmic drops are vital. Using a single infective examination room, as well as educating the staff and the patient, is important.

Patients should be instructed to take contagion and isolation precautions for at least 2 weeks or as long as their eyes are red and weeping.

Physicians have been sued by patients who believe they acquired viral conjunctivitis in the doctor's office. Every attempt to prevent transmission from patient to patient (not to mention to the doctor) should be made. Suggestions include not having patients with a red eye wait in the general waiting room, having a special examination room for patients with red eye, disinfecting the examination room after seeing any patient with a red eye, not shaking hands with patients with red eye (after explaining the reason to them), touching their eyelids with cotton-tipped applicators and not your fingers, washing the hands immediately after examining the patient (even before writing in the chart), and not giving the chart to the patient to bring to the receptionist.

Viral conjunctivitis is an occupational hazard of eye care physicians. Take all precautions possible not to become a victim.


Follow-up Considerations

Patients with conjunctivitis, especially those treated with medications, require follow-up care. Patients should return in 1-3 weeks or sooner if the condition worsens.



An important aspect of treatment is to know the proper time to refer the patient to a specialist.

Patients with hyperacute conjunctivitis or those with corneal involvement, such as ulceration, herpetic keratitis, or suspected orbital cellulitis, should be referred to an ophthalmologist.

An ophthalmologist also should evaluate patients who fail to respond to appropriate therapy.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Ingrid U Scott, MD, MPH Professor, Department of Ophthalmology and Public Health Sciences, Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine

Ingrid U Scott, MD, MPH is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Ophthalmology, Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, American Society of Retina Specialists, Macula Society, Retina Society, American Medical Association, American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, Phi Beta Kappa

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Kevin Luu, MD Consulting Staff, Pediatric Anesthesia Associates Medical Group, Inc; Consulting Staff, Children's Hospital of Central California

Kevin Luu, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Phi Beta Kappa

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Christopher J Rapuano, MD Professor, Department of Ophthalmology, Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University; Director of the Cornea Service, Co-Director of Refractive Surgery Department, Wills Eye Hospital

Christopher J Rapuano, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Ophthalmology, American Ophthalmological Society, American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, Contact Lens Association of Ophthalmologists, International Society of Refractive Surgery, Cornea Society, Eye Bank Association of America

Disclosure: Serve(d) as a director, officer, partner, employee, advisor, consultant or trustee for: Cornea Society, Allergan, Bausch & Lomb, Bio-Tissue, Shire, TearScience, TearLab<br/>Serve(d) as a speaker or a member of a speakers bureau for: Allergan, Bausch & Lomb, Bio-Tissue, TearScience.

Chief Editor

Hampton Roy, Sr, MD Associate Clinical Professor, Department of Ophthalmology, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

Hampton Roy, Sr, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Ophthalmology, American College of Surgeons, Pan-American Association of Ophthalmology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Jerre Freeman, MD Founder and Chairman, Memphis Eye and Cataract Associates; Clinical Professor, Department of Ophthalmology, University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Medicine

Jerre Freeman, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Ophthalmology, American Medical Association, American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, Tennessee Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Viral conjunctivitis. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
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