To diagnose pink eye (conjunctivitis), your doctor will look for the usual symptoms, such as burning, itchy eyes that discharge a thick, sticky mucus and tearing. Your doctor may take a swab of the discharge from your eye to send to the lab to determine the cause. Often, the cause can be determined from your symptoms, medical history, and the eye exam findings alone. Most of the time, treatment is started right away while lab results are pending. Treatment may then be modified based on the results of lab tests.
To help relieve the discomfort of pink eye, apply a warm compress for 5 to 10 minutes, three to four times a day. Preservative-free artificial tears can be applied a few times a day. Never use steroid eye drops or medications from a friend without a doctor's prescription.
For pink eye that seems to be from an allergy, place a cool compress on your closed eye and use nonprescription allergy eye drops to relieve itching and burning. If the condition worsens or does not improve in a few days, consult your doctor. If pink eye symptoms do not seem to be related to a cold or allergy, you may want to see your health care provider or eye doctor for an evaluation.
Pink eye caused by a virus usually runs its course in one to three weeks. Because it is not caused by bacteria, viral conjunctivitis does not respond to antibiotics. It can also be highly contagious. Artificial tears may help relieve symptoms of viral pink eye.
Pink eye caused by the herpes virus can be very serious and may be treated with prescription antiviral eye drops, ointment, or pills.
For pink eye caused by bacteria, the treatment will usually be antibiotic eye drops or ointment. This generally clears the symptoms within a few days. Be sure to complete the full course of antibiotic treatment. For more stubborn infections, an oral antibiotic may be prescribed. Oral antibiotics are routinely prescribed for pink eye caused by gonorrhea or chlamydia. Sexual partners should also treated. Also, if pink eye doesn't go away after a month, you should be tested for chlamydia.
Allergic pink eye should respond to topical vasoconstrictors (medicines that narrow the blood vessels), antihistamines, or steroid eye drops. Again, never apply steroid drops for any eye symptoms without a doctor's prescription.