How to Get Rid of Pinkeye

Medically Reviewed by Whitney Seltman, OD on November 08, 2022
3 min read

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

Allergies, viruses, and bacteria can cause pinkeye, which is 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. The symptoms may last a week or 10 days, maybe longer, but they sometimes go away without medical treatment.

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

  • 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 pinkeye 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 pinkeye 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 pinkeye 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.

Pinkeye 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 pinkeye. 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.

Pinkeye 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 pinkeye 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

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 pinkeye 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 pinkeye.