Updated on 

July 27, 2022

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Quick Home Remedies for Pink Eye

How Long Does Pink Eye Last?

Conjunctivitis, sometimes known as pink eye, is an infection or inflammation of the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is the thin outer membrane of the eye. It covers the whites of the eye and the inner side of the eyelids. It provides lubrication and protection against infectious microorganisms.

As the name suggests, inflammation of the conjunctiva results in red or pinkish eyes. This is because blood vessels in the conjunctiva become more visible when inflamed. Inflammation may be due to a virus, bacteria, or allergic reactions.1

pink eye with eye drops animation edited scaled
Conjunctivitis. Redness and inflammation of the eye. Vessels. Eye drops. Infographics. Vector illustration on isolated background.

In many cases, pink eye is mild and clears on its own. The recovery time for pink eyes depends on the cause and remedies used. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), bacterial conjunctivitis may last about 2 to 5 days without treatment.2 

Full recovery may take about 2 weeks. On the other hand, viral conjunctivitis may take about 7 to 14 days or more to clear. 

Allergic conjunctivitis will clear when the allergen is removed from the person's environment.   Doctors can also prescribe appropriate medication to ease symptoms, shorten recovery time, or treat severe conjunctivitis cases.

Symptoms of Pink Eye

In addition to redness, other symptoms of pink eyes include:

  • Swollen conjunctiva
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Excess tearing
  • A gritty feeling in the eyes
  • Itchy or burning sensation in the eyes
  • Discharge (pus or mucus)
  • Crusted eyelids (especially in the morning)
  • Difficulty keeping contact lenses on
  • Sneezing or scratchy throat (allergic conjunctivitis)
  • Sensitivity to light (photophobia)

See an ophthalmologist for professional care if you suspect pink eye and if the home remedies discussed below are not working. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent disease progression.

9 Home Remedies for Pink Eye

It can be challenging to tell your type of conjunctiva without a medical examination. However, mild cases of pink eyes will resolve on their own. Proper care of affected eyes will ease symptoms, shorten the recovery time, and prevent complications.

Let's look at some home remedies for pink eye.

1. Over-the-Counter Pain Medication

OTC pain medication can alleviate pain, but it will not cure pink eye. For instance, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can relieve pain and reduce inflammation, but the bacteria, virus, or allergen may still be present.3

2. Eye Drops

OTC eye drops or artificial tears, such as olopatadine, alcaftadine, and ketotifen, can also help relieve dry and itchy eyes associated with allergic conjunctivitis.4 In addition, some of these OTC eye drops contain antihistamines which can control allergic reactions.

Consult your doctor if you're unsure which OTC medication to use.

3. Cool Compress

To make a cool compress, wet a clean washcloth in cold water, wring excess water, and hold it over the affected eye for a few minutes. The cooling effect helps reduce inflammation, swelling, and pain. 

4. Warm Compress

The cold compress technique will provide the most soothing feeling for your inflamed eye. However, a warm washcloth can help in case of crust formation. 

One of the symptoms of conjunctivitis is mucus or pus discharge. The discharge may crust around the eyes. This makes opening your eyes difficult or painful.

Holding a clean, warm damp washcloth over the affected eye for a few minutes will help remove the dry crusts and relieve pain. Warm compresses can also clean mucus or pus from the eyes and lashes.

5. Cucumber Therapy

Research shows that placing pieces of cucumber over your eyes can soothe inflammation and reduce swelling.5 Cucumbers also hydrate the eyes, making them a natural remedy for dry eyes, especially in allergic conjunctivitis.

6. Avoid Eye Makeup and Contact Lenses

Contact lenses can irritate your eyes, causing more problems. Experts recommend avoiding contact lenses until you fully recover. When you resume wearing contacts, get new ones to avoid re-infection.

Eye makeup is a potential reservoir for bacteria. Wearing eye makeup before you recover can introduce new harmful bacteria into your eyes, worsening the infection. You may also transfer the bacteria into your makeup kit, increasing the risk for reinfection.

7. Avoid Allergen Exposure

The most effective remedy for allergic conjunctivitis is avoiding re-exposure. While in recovery, re-exposure to the same allergen will result in further inflammation. 

Common allergens include pollen, dust, grass, animal dander, and mold spores.6 If you know what's causing your allergic conjunctivitis, avoiding it will quicken recovery and prevent a recurrence. 

8. Don't Touch Your Eyes

You may be tempted to touch or rub your eyes due to itching or pain associated with pink eye. However, doing so may worsen the condition; you could spread bacteria or viruses to the unaffected eye or other people. It may also introduce new germs to the affected eye. 

Instead, use medications such as pain relievers and lubricating eye drops to soothe the discomfort. Experts also recommend washing your hands regularly to remove germs in case you need to touch your eyes.

9. Change Towels and Beddings Often

It may seem insignificant, but your towels, bedsheets, and pillows will likely come into contact with pus, mucus, and other infectious fluids from the affected eye. This is dangerous because it may cause reinfection. Experts recommend frequently washing bedding in hot water.

If you have bacterial or viral pink eye conjunctivitis, avoid reusing washcloths or touching the other eye.

Pink Eye Treatment Myths

Some people believe in pink eye claims which are not backed by research. The following are five myths about pink eye treatment. 

Myth Fact
There's no treatment for conjunctivitis. There are antibiotic, antiviral, and anti-allergy treatments.
You will gain immunity after recovery. The infection can recur if you're exposed.
Only antibiotics can treat pink eye. There are several treatment options depending on the cause.
Visine® can cure pink eye. Visine® can only reduce redness and may worsen the condition if used in excess.
All pink eye infections require emergency treatment. Many cases of pink eye are mild and resolve on their own.
Breast milk can cure pink eye. There is no sufficient evidence to suggest this.

How to Prevent Spreading Pink Eye

You can prevent pink eye by doing the following:

  • Wash your hands regularly 
  • Avoid touching your eyes
  • Dispose or thoroughly wash clothes or towels used to touch your eyes or face
  • Change your bedding frequently
  • Use clean cosmetic brushes and replace eye makeup often
  • Avoid sharing your eye cosmetics
  • Clean contact lenses before wearing them. For disposable ones, change them as required
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces

When to See a Doctor

You should seek medical attention if home remedies fail and your conjunctivitis is accompanied by:

  • Persistent severe pain
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Intense redness
  • Eye discharge
  • Visual disturbance

People with weak immunity will require medical care to boost their immune response to the infection. For newborns with pink eye, seek emergency medical care.

Diagnosis

An eye doctor will diagnose pink eye by examining your symptoms and medical history. However, it's sometimes challenging to diagnose pink eye symptoms as they may be shared across other eye conditions. 

For this reason, your eye doctor may collect a sample of fluid discharged from your eyes and send it to the lab. Laboratory analysis will help them determine the type of conjunctivitis and prescribe the appropriate treatment.

Laboratory analysis is necessary if a severe viral infection, such as herpes simplex or varicella-zoster, is suspected.7 

Professional Treatments

Your doctor will recommend conjunctivitis treatment based on the cause. For example, if bacteria causes it, they may prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointments such as ophthalmic ciprofloxacin, tobramycin, erythromycin, or ofloxacin.

Antiviral medications are an option if your conjunctivitis is caused by a virus such as the herpes simplex virus. People with herpes simplex may be prescribed oral antivirals such as acyclovir.

For allergic pink eye, your doctor may recommend allergy-specific eye drops. These include antihistamines and mast cell stabilizers, which help manage allergic reactions. 

Your doctor may also prescribe decongestants, steroids, and anti-inflammatory drops to reduce inflammation.

Outlook

Research estimates that acute pink eye affects about 6 million people in the United States annually. Allergic conjunctivitis is the most common type, affecting about 15 to 40% of Americans.8

However, conjunctivitis doesn't always need treatment because it rarely has severe symptoms. In many cases, it resolves on its own within a few weeks.

Chronic conjunctivitis is considered if it lasts longer than four weeks.

Summary

Pink eye is an inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva. This is the thin outer membrane of the eye covering the sclera (whites of the eye). Inflammation of the conjunctiva results in red or pinkish eyes as blood vessels in the conjunctiva become more visible.

According to the CDC, bacterial pink eye may last about 2 to 5 days without treatment. Full recovery may take about two weeks. On the other hand, viral conjunctivitis may take about 7 to 14 days or more to clear. Allergic conjunctivitis will clear when the allergen is removed from the person's environment.

Home remedies for pink eye include cold and warm compresses, cucumber therapy, eye drops, OTC pain medications, avoiding allergen exposure, and good hygiene. If symptoms persist or worsen, seek emergency medical care.

8 Cited Research Articles
  1. Pink eye (conjunctivitis,” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER), 16 Jun. 2020.
  2. Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye),” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 04 Jan. 2019.
  3. NSAIDs,” National Health Service-UK,  27 Feb. 2019.
  4. Kent C. “Is It Dry Eye, Allergy Or Infection?,”  Review of Ophthalmology, 11 Nov. 2014
  5. Murad H., “Evaluating The Potential Benefits Of Cucumbers For Improved Health And Skin Care,” 
  6. Karakus S. “Allergic Conjunctivitis,”  The Johns Hopkins University
  7. Solano D., “Viral Conjunctivitis,”  National Center for Biotechnology Information  (NCBI), 10 May  2022.
  8. Conjunctivitis: A Systematic Review of Diagnosis and Treatment” American Medical Association, 23 Oct. 2013.
Melody Huang is an optometrist and freelance health writer. Through her writing, Dr. Huang enjoys educating patients on how to lead healthier and happier lives. She also has an interest in Eastern medicine practices and learning about integrative medicine. When she’s not working, Dr. Huang loves reviewing new skin care products, trying interesting food recipes, or hanging with her adopted cats.
Vincent Ayaga is a medical researcher and experienced content writer with a bachelor's degree in Medical Microbiology. His areas of special interest include disease investigation, prevention, and control strategies. Vincent's mission is to create awareness of visual problems and evidence-based solutions shaping the world of ophthalmology. He believes that ophthalmic education offered through research has a greater impact among knowledge seekers.
https://www.visioncenter.org/author/vince/
Author: Vince Ayaga  | UPDATED July 27, 2022
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Medical reviewer: Dr. Melody Huang, O.D.
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Dr. Melody Huang, O.D.
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