Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is an eye condition that causes the eye to become pink and irritated. Bacteria, viruses, and allergens can cause pink eye. The symptoms often resolve without treatment, but home remedies can help ease them.

Pink eye is a term for the inflammation of the conjuctiva, the membrane that covers the eye and lines the inside of the eyelids.

Pink eye typically gets better when the cause is no longer applicable, meaning that the infection has gone or the allergic reaction has stopped. In the meantime, cool compresses, proper eye hygiene, eye drops, and over-the-counter (OTC) medications may help reduce discomfort.

This article discusses five quick and easy home remedies for pink eye. It also looks at ways to stop it from spreading and explains when a person should seek medical help.

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Pink eye causes inflammation around the eye. This can be irritating, and at times, it might be painful. A cool compress may help reduce inflammation and soothe these symptoms.

A person can make a cool compress by soaking a clean washcloth or hand towel in cold water and wringing out any excess water. They can then hold the cloth over the affected eye for a few minutes.

If an infection is the cause of pink eye, it is important not to reuse the washcloth. Doing so may spread the infection to the other eye or to other household members. Instead, a person should use a clean washcloth for each compress and launder used washcloths in hot water.

People with bacterial pink eye might find that thick discharge, or pus, leaks from the eye. Pus dries quickly, forming a crust along the edges of the eyelids. This crust may cause difficulty opening the eye, especially first thing in the morning.

People can try using a warm, damp cloth to remove pus from the eye and lashes. They may also find that a warm shower helps remove the dry crust.

People can use artificial tears to soothe irritation or burning in the eye. Artificial tears are a type of eye drop that people can buy OTC.

Eye drops may be especially helpful when a person has pink eye due to allergies because they can help clean the eye and remove traces of the allergen.

Some OTC medications may help relieve the pain of pink eye, but they will not cure it.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, may help with inflammation. Allergy medication may also relieve the symptoms of allergic pink eye. These medications include:

  • allergy eye drops
  • oral antihistamines
  • mast cell inhibitors

It is important for a person to remember that they may still have an infection, even if the symptoms improve.

Certain types of pink eye, such as bacterial or viral pink eye, are very contagious. Touching the eye can spread the infection to the other eye or to other people. It may also exacerbate the symptoms.

If a person needs to touch their eyes, such as when they are cleaning them, they should wash their hands thoroughly before and afterward. It is important not to reuse any tissues, washcloths, or towels that have been in contact with the affected eye. A person should also avoid wearing contact lenses or eye makeup until the symptoms have gone.

As pink eye has multiple possible causes, it also has several treatment options. The three primary causes of pink eye are:

  • viruses
  • bacteria
  • allergens, such as pollen or pet dander

Bacterial pink eye is relatively easy to diagnose because the eye it affects often produces thick pus. In contrast, the discharge from viral and allergic pink eye looks more like water.

Viral infections usually clear up without treatment within 1–3 weeks. Sometimes, a herpes infection causes pink eye. A person should speak with a doctor if this happens, as they will need antiviral medication to prevent complications.

Bacterial infections may improve within 2–5 days without treatment, although antibiotic eye drops can speed up the recovery. Antibiotics will not help with any other type of pink eye.

In cases of allergic pink eye, the symptoms will improve once the person no longer has exposure to the allergen.

Some people believe that certain home remedies can cure pink eye. However, pink eye often gets better on its own. Therefore, while it may seem as though a home remedy cured pink eye, the condition likely improved without it.

Home remedies and alternative treatments can also have risks. They may make things worse by spreading the infection, introducing harmful substances to the eye, or delaying necessary medical care.

There is no scientific evidence to support the use of the following to treat pink eye:

  • breast milk
  • urine
  • eye redness drops, such as Visine

In some cases, drops that reduce redness may make pink eye symptoms worse.

Although pink eye often resolves on its own, medical attention is occasionally necessary. It is best to speak with a doctor about suspected pink eye if it affects:

  • someone with a weakened immune system
  • a person with a history of eye disease
  • a child

People should also speak with a doctor if their symptoms last longer than 1 week.

Anyone who develops unusual symptoms should seek prompt medical attention. Such symptoms include:

  • green or yellow discharge from the eye
  • pain in the eye
  • impaired vision
  • sensitivity to light
  • fever
  • chills
  • body aches
  • a blotchy rash

Sometimes, pink eye in children is a symptom of measles. If there has been a local measles outbreak or the child has not had a measles vaccine, it is important to contact a doctor right away.

Many of the viruses and bacteria that cause pink eye are highly contagious. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that people with symptoms either avoid close contact with others or stay at home until the symptoms clear.

People can take steps to prevent the spread of pink eye to others and avoid contracting pink eye again. These include:

  • washing the hands often
  • avoiding rubbing or touching the affected eye
  • changing or washing bedding, such as pillowcases, sheets, and comforters, at frequent intervals
  • using clean towels and washing used towels at a high temperature
  • refraining from sharing makeup with others
  • avoiding wearing contact lenses or makeup
  • throwing away any makeup that may be contaminated

Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is a condition that causes inflammation of the membrane that covers the eye and lines the inside of the eyelids. It is usually temporary and resolves on its own, but home remedies can help minimize the symptoms.

People may benefit from eye drops, compresses, and OTC pain relievers. Taking steps to practice proper hygiene and avoid spreading the infection can also keep the other eye from becoming inflamed, too.

If bacterial pink eye does not clear on its own, a doctor may prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointment. Certain types of viral pink eye, especially those resulting from herpes, may also require medical treatment.

People should consult a healthcare professional before taking any new medications or trying alternative treatments for pink eye.