Pinkeye, which doctors call conjunctivitis, usually resolves within 2 weeks without treatment. In the meantime, home remedies may relieve the itchiness, discomfort, and inflammation.
This article discusses five quick and easy home remedies for pinkeye, along with when a person might wish to see a doctor.
Treating different types of pinkeye
There are three main causes of pinkeye.
Doctors often prescribe antibiotics to treat pinkeye. However, antibiotics will only help with pinkeye caused by bacteria, and will not treat pinkeye that a virus or allergy prompts.
The three primary causes of pinkeye are:
- Viral infections, which usually clear up on their own within 1–3 weeks.
- Bacterial infections may improve within 2–5 days without treatment, though antibiotic eye drops can speed up healing.
- Allergens, such as pollen or pet dander. Symptoms will improve once a person clears the allergen from their eye.
Bacterial pinkeye is relatively easy to diagnose because the eye it affects often produces thick pus, while the discharge from viral and allergic pinkeye looks more like water.
Home remedies, as discussed here, can relieve symptoms regardless of the cause.
1. Use a cool compress
Pinkeye causes inflammation around the eye that can be irritating and even painful. Using a cool and damp compress will help reduce inflammation and soothe the eye.
How to use a compress for pinkeye:
- soak a clean washcloth or hand towel in warm or cool water
- wring out any excess water
- place the damp washcloth over the eye and leave there for a few minutes
- remove the washcloth from the eye and wash your hands immediately
People should not reuse washcloths before laundering them in hot water as this can spread the infection or reinfect the eye.
2. Damp cloth clean
People who have bacterial pinkeye might notice a thick discharge, or pus, leaking from the eye that it is affecting.
Pus dries quickly, forming a crust along the edges of the eyelids. People may have difficulty opening their eye, especially in the morning after the pus has had time to sit and harden overnight.
Use a warm, damp cloth to remove pus from around the eye and lashes.
3. Eye drops
Lubricating eye drops, or “natural tears,” can soothe irritation or burning in the eye.
Eye drops can help relieve the symptoms of all types of pinkeye. They help to flush out allergens, irritants, and discharge.
4. Pain-relieving medication
Eye drops containing antihistamines can help relieve pain associated with pinkeye.
Some over-the-counter medications can help minimize pinkeye symptoms.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, can help with pain relief and inflammation.
Allergy medication can also relieve symptoms of pinkeye if an allergy is the cause. These medications include:
- antihistamine tablets
- topical eye drops containing antihistamines
- mast cell stabilizers
5. Avoid touching the eyes
Touching or rubbing the eyes can make the symptoms of pinkeye worse, and can mean it takes longer to clear up. If a person needs to touch their eyes, they can do so by washing their hands thoroughly both before and afterward.
Some types of pinkeye are contagious, so to avoid transmitting the condition to others, and to avoid reinfection, a person should use new towels each day and change pillowcases and sheets frequently.
Avoid wearing contact lenses until the symptoms have gone away to prevent further irritation.
When to see a doctor
Although pinkeye often resolves on its own, there are cases when people are best seeking medical attention.
People with weakened immune systems or a history of eye disease should always see a doctor for suspected pinkeye. Infants with possible pinkeye should also always see a doctor, and newborns must be seen right away.
Adults should see a doctor if their symptoms last longer than one week, or if they experience any of the following symptoms:
- green or yellow discharge from the eye
- pain in the eye
- impaired vision
- sensitivity to light
- body aches
How to avoid spreading pinkeye
Changing pillowcases can help prevent the spread of pinkeye.
Many of the viruses and bacteria that cause pinkeye are highly contagious. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that people with symptoms either avoid close contact with others at school or work, or stay at home until the symptoms clear.
The following methods can help prevent the spread of pinkeye to others:
- washing the hands often
- avoiding rubbing or touching the affected eye
- changing or washing bedding, such as pillowcases, sheets, and comforters, often
- using clean towels and washing used towels
- avoiding wearing contact lenses or makeup
- throwing away any makeup that the infection may have contaminated
Pinkeye, or conjunctivitis, is a condition that causes inflammation of the membrane covering the eye and lining the inside of the eyelids.
Mild to moderate cases of pinkeye may resolve on their own without medication. Treatment for pinkeye usually focuses on symptom relief. There are no cures for viral or allergic pinkeye. Bacterial pinkeye can often clear on its own, but antibiotic eye drops can speed up the healing process.
Home remedies for pinkeye include over-the-counter medications, lubricating eye drops, and compresses.
People should consult a healthcare provider before taking any new medications or trying to use alternative treatments.