Some different types of pink eye drops include artificial tears, allergy eye drops, antibiotic eye drops, and antiviral eye drops. These medications may help relieve symptoms of the condition.

Certain eye drops may help treat all types of conjunctivitis. Antibiotic and antiviral eye drops may help treat infectious conjunctivitis, while allergy eye drops can help treat allergic conjunctivitis. Artificial tears may help ease symptoms in all cases of conjunctivitis.

This article outlines eye drops for treating different types of conjunctivitis, how to apply them, and the typical outlook for people diagnosed with the eye condition. It also discusses when to contact a doctor.

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According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), eye drops may help treat some types of conjunctivitis.

Antibiotic eye drops may help treat bacterial conjunctivitis, and allergy eye drops may help treat allergic conjunctivitis.

Artificial tears may also help ease symptoms. Artificial tears are eye drops that help lubricate the eye.

Generally, there is no treatment for viral conjunctivitis, as it usually resolves without treatment.

Regardless of which type of conjunctivitis people have, it’s important that they avoid using any red-eye-reducing drops, such as Visine. These eye drops may worsen symptoms and could feel very uncomfortable if an infection causes conjunctivitis.

Learn about the difference between bacterial and viral conjunctivitis here.

Viral conjunctivitis

There is usually no treatment for viral conjunctivitis, and the condition often resolves within 1–2 weeks.

People may use OTC artificial tears 4 times per day. People can look for preservative-free artificial tears, which they may be able to use up to 10 times per day.

If the herpes simplex virus (HSV) is causing conjunctivitis, people may use eye drops containing trifluridine (Viroptic).

Bacterial conjunctivitis

People may be able to treat mild bacterial conjunctivitis at home using OTC artificial tears, which help lubricate the eye.

Bacterial conjunctivitis usually improves within 2–5 days without treatment, but it may take up to 2 weeks to clear completely.

Sometimes a doctor may prescribe antibiotic eye drops to help reduce the risk of complications or transmitting the infection to others. Antibiotic eye drops may help reduce the infection’s duration. Examples include:

  • polymyxin b/trimethoprim (Polytrim)
  • ciprofloxacin (Ciloxan)
  • ofloxacin (Ocuflox)
  • bacitracin/polymyxin B (Polysporin)

Allergic conjunctivitis

OTC or prescription anti-allergy eye drops may help treat allergic conjunctivitis.

People may also find that artificial tears help relieve mild cases of allergic conjunctivitis. Artificial tears may help wash allergens from the eye and lessen itching or worsening of symptoms.

OTC antihistamine eye drops may help treat allergic conjunctivitis. Examples include:

  • ketotifen (Zaditor)
  • olopatadine (Pataday)

A doctor may prescribe antihistamine eye drops to treat allergic conjunctivitis in more severe cases. These may include:

  • cetirizine
  • ketotifen
  • olopatadine
  • azelastine
  • epinastine
  • bepotastine

A doctor may also prescribe mast cell stabilizer eye drops, such as:

  • disodium cromoglycate
  • nedocromil
  • lodoxamide

If people have persistent allergic conjunctivitis, they may need treatment with topical steroid eye drops, such as loteprednol etabonate (Alrex/Lotemax).

Learn more about allergic conjunctivitis here.

People may be able to treat conjunctivitis with home remedies and over-the-counter (OTC) treatments. They will need to see a doctor if they have severe or worsening symptoms, such as:

Apply eye drops by following these steps:

  • Wash the hands thoroughly with soap and warm water.
  • Remove contact lenses if wearing them unless a doctor has advised otherwise.
  • Shake the eye drops and remove the cap, taking care not to touch the dropper tip.
  • Tilt the head back slightly and look upward.
  • Use one finger to gently pull the lower eyelid of the eye down, forming a pocket to drop the liquid into.
  • Hold the dropper over the eyelid pocket without touching the eye with any part of the bottle.
  • Gently squeeze the bottle to apply the correct number of drops.
  • Close the eye and gently press a finger into the corner of the eye, next to the nose, for a few minutes so the eye can absorb the drops.
  • Before opening the eye, use a clean cloth or tissue to wipe any excess drops or tears away.
  • If people need to apply more than one type of eye drop, wait 3–5 minutes before using them.
  • Wash the hands again after applying the eye drops.

This video from the AAO demonstrates how to apply eye drops:

Symptoms of bacterial conjunctivitis may improve in 3–4 days of treatment with antibiotic eye drops. People must take the full course of antibiotics to prevent the infection from returning.

Most cases of viral conjunctivitis resolve within 14–30 days. If people take antiviral eye drops for a specific virus, such as HSV, people may need to use the eye drops for up to 2 weeks.

Allergic conjunctivitis may improve quickly with antihistamine eye drops, but the effects may only last a few hours. People may need to use certain antihistamine eye drops 4 times per day to provide relief.

Mast cell stabilizers may take 3–7 days to show an improvement in allergic conjunctivitis.

People may be able to treat conjunctivitis at home with OTC eye drops, or artificial tears, which help lubricate the eye. Anti-allergy eye drops may help treat allergic conjunctivitis.

Doctors may also prescribe antibiotic, antiviral, or anti-allergy eye drops depending on what’s causing the conjunctivitis.