Adenoviral conjunctivitis is the most common subtype of conjunctivitis (pink eye), a type of inflammation or irritation of the conjunctiva (the white part of your eye).

Conjunctivitis is most commonly caused by viral or bacterial infections, as well as allergies.

Adenoviral conjunctivitis makes up about 75% of all infectious conjunctivitis cases. It’s caused by a common group of viruses called adenoviruses, which are known for flu-like or cold-like symptoms.

Keratoconjunctivitis — pink eye that affects both your conjunctiva and your cornea — can also result from this type of infection. Keratoconjuctivitis caused by an adenovirus is called epidemic keratoconjunctivitis (EKC). It’s the only type of adenoviral conjunctivitis involving the cornea, and it’s the most serious form.

Here’s the important information you need to know about this common type of pink eye, including the symptoms, its causes, and treatment options you may consider discussing with a doctor.

Pink eye from adenovirus can cause red, painful, and watery eyes. When your cornea is involved due to EKC, you may experience blurry vision and swelling of the lymph nodes in front of your ears.

Adenoviral conjunctivitis tends to affect one eye first. It may spread to the other eye within 4 to 5 days, though the symptoms may be less severe.

While adenoviral conjunctivitis is sometimes regarded as a condition on its own, the term “adenoviral conjunctivitis” can refer to just one of the many symptoms of an adenoviral infection.

Aside from eye symptoms, these infections can cause other cold- and flu-like symptoms, such as:

  • sore throat
  • fever
  • coughing
  • wheezing
  • runny nose
  • diarrhea
  • nausea or vomiting

Viral conjunctivitis is considered very contagious and may be spread by human contact or by touching your eyes with unwashed hands.

Adenoviral conjunctivitis develops as a result of an adenovirus infection. There are more than 50 known strains of this virus, and all are considered highly contagious.

Viruses such as adenoviruses may spread among mucus membranes, such as those in your lungs, nose, and tear ducts. The infection may spread along these mucus membranes to your conjunctiva.

While common household disinfectants can kill many viruses, they don’t always kill adenoviruses. This can increase the risk that these viruses may spread via surfaces.

Anyone can get adenoviral conjunctivitis, as it’s a highly contagious infection. It’s also the most common form of viral pink eye.

However, you may be at a higher risk of developing an adenovirus infection if you have a weakened immune system due to underlying health conditions or if you take certain medications, such as immunosuppressants.

Most people who get sick from an adenovirus will get over the infection without any major complications. However, anyone can develop acute bronchitis or pneumonia.

Also, your risk of developing complications may be greater if you have a weakened immune system, heart disease, or lung disease. In rare cases, adenoviruses may lead to hospitalization or death.

Adenovirus is one of the many possible causes of conjunctivitis. There are several features an eye doctor can use to detect and diagnose adenoviral conjunctivitis.

The time of year you develop pink eye symptoms may also help a doctor with your diagnosis. Unlike bacterial conjunctivitis, which tends to be most common from December through April, adenoviruses may cause illness and resulting symptoms year-round.

Like other types of viral conjunctivitis, this type usually resolves on its own as the adenovirus runs its course. In the meantime, you can use artificial tears to rinse out discharge and cold compresses to help reduce inflammation.

There’s no known specific treatment for adenoviruses. Some people who become seriously ill may need to be hospitalized, though this is rare.

Antibiotics are ineffective in treating adenoviral conjunctivitis because it is not a bacterial infection. A doctor may prescribe steroid eyedrops for severe pain and inflammation, but these don’t treat the underlying virus that’s causing your pink eye.

Viral conjunctivitis, including cases caused by adenoviruses, usually clears up on its own without medical treatment. However, you should contact a doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • symptoms that continue to worsen
  • worsening redness
  • changes in your vision, such as blurriness or light sensitivity
  • eye pain

One of the best ways to prevent adenoviral conjunctivitis is to avoid touching your eyes with unwashed hands.

You can also avoid getting sick with the adenoviruses that cause this subtype of conjunctivitis by staying away from others who may be ill. Additionally, it is important to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds at a time before eating or touching your face.

It’s important to contact a healthcare professional if you have any possible symptoms of adenoviral conjunctivitis or any questions about your individual risk of developing complications.

Below are a few common questions about adenoviral conjunctivitis.

What are the signs and symptoms of adenoviral conjunctivitis?

Symptoms of adenoviral conjunctivitis may include eye redness, pain, and inflammation, as well as blurry vision and watery discharge. Additionally, you may feel a swollen lymph node directly in front of your ear.

You may also experience other flu- and cold-like symptoms such as fever, sore throat, and runny nose.

How contagious is adenovirus conjunctivitis?

Considered separately, both adenoviruses and viral conjunctivitis are highly contagious. Adenoviral conjunctivitis is very contagious and spreads easily through close human contact and contact with common surfaces.

People who have this condition and others who are sharing their space need to practice rigorous handwashing and surface sanitation to reduce the spread of adenoviral conjunctivitis.

How long does adenoviral conjunctivitis last?

Adenoviral conjunctivitis typically lasts 7 to 14 days, though it can sometimes take 3 weeks for the infection to fully clear up. Contact a doctor if your symptoms worsen or don’t improve within this time frame.

Adenoviral conjunctivitis is a common, highly contagious type of pink eye. Like other types of viral conjunctivitis, this infection typically resolves on its own within a couple of weeks.

Consider contacting a doctor if your symptoms worsen or if you’re experiencing vision changes. It’s also important to talk with a doctor if you develop conjunctivitis and have a high risk of developing complications due to an underlying health condition.