What Factors Affect the Pink Eye Incubation Period?

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  • Written By: Erin J. Hill
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2018
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Pink eye is caused by a variety of irritants which can infect the eye, and the incubation period can vary depending on the underlying cause. Viral infections can take anywhere from 12 hours to three days before symptoms start to appear. The pink eye incubation period for bacterial infections is usually between one and three days. Other factors can also play a role, such as one’s immune function and the sensitivity of the eyes.

There is separate pink eye incubation period for each type of infection. Viral and bacterial infections are the most common, but allergens and irritants can also cause symptoms related to pink eye. The incubation period refers to the amount of time it takes between transmission of the pathogen or irritant and symptom appearance.

One’s immune system may also affect the pink eye incubation period in some individuals. Sometimes immune cells can keep bacteria and viruses at bay for longer periods of time in those who have strong immune systems. Others who have compromised immune function may begin have symptoms sooner and more severely.

The pink eye incubation period for allergens and irritants may be shorter than for bacterial and viral infections. Unlike viruses and bacteria which must multiply and accumulate over time, allergens to not do this. They cause irritation in the eye and may cause symptoms almost immediately or within one day. This may vary based on the person’s sensitivity to a particular allergen.


Most individuals are not contagious during the pink eye incubation period. The condition can be spread as soon as symptoms appear and for as long as the eyes are draining. Those who are taking antibiotics are no longer contagious within 24 hours in most cases, although this should be confirmed with a doctor. Most individuals will notice a reduction in symptoms within a week, but this can vary widely.

Pink eye is highly contagious when in its active stages. Children are more likely to contract it than adults, but it affects people of all ages. Redness in the whites of the eyes, runny eyes, and soreness or itching are all potential symptoms of pink eye. Only bacterial varieties are effectively treated with antibiotics, and many times the infection clears on its own.



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