Pink Eye Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on March 07, 2024
5 min read

If you or your child has pink eye, you may be tempted to rush to the doctor right away. But you might not have to.

Allergies, viruses, and bacteria can cause pink eye, also called conjunctivitis. It makes one or both of your eyes red and itchy. The affected eye will drain a lot or have a white or yellowish discharge. 

Does pink eye go away on its own?

Sometimes the symptoms of pink eye go away without medical treatment. You can use home remedies to feel better in the meantime.

How long does pink eye last?

The symptoms of pink eye may last a week or 10 days, maybe longer. 

There are some simple steps you can take to feel better, no matter what’s causing your pink eye.

  • Use a compress. Soak a lint-free cloth in cool water. Wring it out and press it gently to your closed eyelids. Don’t press hard, as you don’t want to hurt your eyes. If you have pink eye in only one eye, keep the compress away from the healthy one, or it could get infected, too. Use warm water if that feels better. But don’t make it too hot, which could make your pink eye worse or burn your eyelids. Use a compress for a few minutes at a time, several times a day. Make sure no one else uses the cloth.
  • Use eye drops. Over-the-counter drops can help with itching. Look for “lubricating” drops or “artificial tears.” Stay away from ones that treat “red eyes.” Keeping your drops in the refrigerator may make them feel even better.
  • Skip your contacts. If you wear contact lenses, go without them until your pink eye clears up.  You may need to replace your lenses and case afterward. Bacteria or viruses may be living there, and you can get infected again.
  • Stop using eye makeup. Avoid using eye makeup while you have pink eye. It may not have caused your infection, but eye makeup can help spread it to your healthy eye. Throw away and replace all eye makeup and applicators that you used before your infection.

Over-the-counter pink eye medication

You may be able to use an over-the-counter medicine like artificial tears or antihistamines to treat your pink eye. It depends on what's causing the infection. Here's how OTC pink eye medications work:

  • Antihistamines. Histamines are chemicals released by your immune system that can cause allergy symptoms. Antihistamines block these chemicals.
  • Mast cell stabilizers. These drugs block the release of histamines and ease itching.

Antibiotic eye drops for conjunctivitis

If you have a serious infection, your doctor could prescribe antibiotic eye drops or steroids.

  • Topical corticosteroids. You'll use this medicine for a couple of weeks to lower eye inflammation. It can have side effects such as blurred vision, more pressure in the eye, and cataracts.
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs. These NSAIDs come in the form of eye drops and lower inflammation, redness, and itching. You'll need to use them several times a day. You may have a burning feeling, but it should get better as you continue to use the drops.


Pink eye caused by a virus might start in one eye and spread to the other. It will usually go away on its own in a week or two. Your doctor can give you medication to treat more serious viruses like herpes simplex or varicella zoster.

You’ll probably have more mucus or pus if bacteria cause your pink eye. Your doctor can prescribe antibiotics, usually eye drops. Mild cases may get better on their own in a few days.

If mucus is making your eyelids stick together, use a warm washcloth to loosen them.

Pink eye caused by an allergy usually gets better after you limit contact with the allergen. Your doctor can give you tests to identify the problem.

Allergic pink eye isn’t contagious. You can go to work or school without worrying about giving it to someone else.

Wash clothes and pillowcases often. It might also help to shower or bathe before bed.

Ask your doctor about medicines that might help. They can recommend over-the-counter or prescription drugs including:

  • Allergy medications like antihistamines or mast cell stabilizers
  • Anti-inflammatories such as decongestants or steroids

If you've had a chemical injury, it's important to first flush your eye with lots of water, then see a doctor. They'll probably suggest you continue to flush your eye with saline and may prescribe topical steroids.

Pink eye caused by a sexually transmitted infection (STI) doesn't happen very often, but it can be serious. A virus or bacteria also causes this type of pink eye, so you'll treat it the same way, with antibiotics or antiviral medicines. 

If you have an STI when you're pregnant, your newborn can get pink eye during delivery, which may cause vision loss. Most hospitals in the U.S. give newborns an antibiotic eye ointment to help avoid infection.

Kids can have a tough time using eye drops multiple times a day. If that's the case with your child, talk to your doctor about antibiotic ointment. You'll apply it in a thin layer at the point where your child's eyelids meet. It will then dissolve into their eye.

Red or swollen eyes could also be caused by a stye -- which often looks like a pimple or red area on your eyelid -- or some other kind of inflammation.

It also could be a different type of allergic reaction. If your eye isn’t better after you try home remedies for a few days, call your doctor.

You also should check with your doctor if you have:


If pink eye has invaded your home, take steps to help keep it from spreading to everyone else. The two most important things for everyone in your household to remember are:

  • Wash your hands often.
  • Try not to touch your eyes.

It’s also helpful to change towels and pillowcases often and wash them in hot water. Never share towels or pillows with someone who has pink eye.

Allergies, viruses, or bacteria can cause pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, resulting in red, itchy eyes with discharge. You can often manage treatment at home with simple remedies like using cool compresses or lubricating eye drops. While viral pink eye typically gets better on its own, while bacterial cases may need antibiotics. 

If your symptoms continue or get worse, especially with other symptoms like fever or vision changes, see a doctor. To avoid pink eye, wash your hands, avoid touching your eyes, and don't share towels or pillows with people who have the infection.