- Home remedies for pink eye include cold compresses, warm washcloths, and over-the-counter eye drops.
- If you have pink eye, you should also stop wearing contacts and makeup for at least a week.
- Pink eye symptoms should improve within a day, but if they don’t, you should see a doctor as it may mean you have a more serious infection.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
Pink eye can be irritating and uncomfortable. Usually, it can heal on its own, and, depending on the type, some at-home treatments can alleviate symptoms.
Here are five home remedies to treat pink eye:
What is pink eye?
Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, is an inflammation of the tissue that lines your eyelid and covers the white part of your eye. Common symptoms include:
- Redness or pinkness in one or both eyes
- Eyelids sticking together
There are three types of pink eye: bacterial, viral, and allergen. While bacterial and viral normally lasts one to two weeks (viral sometimes up to three), pink eye from allergies will last as long as you are having the allergic reaction.
Only bacterial pink eye can be treated with antibiotics. However, there are also some actions you can take at home that can help alleviate the symptoms of all three.
1. Apply a cold compress
A cold compress may offer temporary relief to an irritated eye, primarily for allergic conjunctivitis, according to Danica Marrelli, OD, a clinical professor and assistant dean of clinical education at the University of Houston College of Optometry.
“To make a cold compress, place a clean wet washcloth in the freezer for a few minutes, but not until frozen,” Marrelli says. “Then place it over the closed eyes. The cold may shrink blood vessels and decrease redness, and offer some relief from itching and irritation.”
Keep the cloth on your eyes for five minutes or for as long as it’s cold. You can do this three or four times a day, or every hour, according to Marrelli. Always use a new cloth every time.
2. Use a warm washcloth
Eye discharge is common with all three types of pink eye, and pus can be seen with bacterial pink eye in particular. To help soften and clean discharge, soak and wring out a clean towel or cloth in warm water and place it on your closed eyelids.
Blood flow may also increase to the eye due to a warm compress, says Marrelli, which can bring infection-fighting immune cells to the area.
Much like a cold compress, you can leave the washcloth on your eye for however long it stays warm and reapply it with a clean cloth throughout the day.
3. Try eye drops
In some cases, applying teardrops, or artificial tears, can help ease pink eye symptoms. The drops moisturize the eye, or in the case of allergic conjunctivitis, help wash away allergens and inflammatory cells from the eye.
Specific over-the-counter eye drops, such as ketotifen and olopatadine, contain antihistamines that reduce the allergic reaction in the eye. In terms of dosage, each eye drop will vary depending on the strength of the antihistamine. Therefore, closely read the label and check with your doctor.
If you have conjunctivitis from a bacterial infection, you can also apply antibiotic eye drops to your eyes. The drops require a prescription from a doctor but can speed up the recovery process.
4. Avoid wearing contacts
“It’s always encouraged to stop wearing contact lenses and throwing out the contacts you have been wearing, as well as also throwing out the solution and contacts lens case,” says Rasa Tamulavichus, OD, an optometrist at Big City Optical in Chicago. “Then when everything is treated, start fresh.”
The bacteria or virus responsible for your infection can reside in contact lens cases and solution, which is why it’s essential to eliminate both. Tamulavichus recommends not wearing your contacts until your eye is healed and white for a week.
If you do get pink eye and are a contact lens wearer, reach out to your ophthalmologist, as it could be a sign of contact-related irritation or a different type of infection.
5. Skip the eye makeup
Similar to contact lenses, it’s important to stop wearing eye makeup while you have bacterial or viral conjunctivitis. It is recommended to wait at least two weeks before applying eye makeup again, but if your eyes are still irritated, uncomfortable, or red, it’s a good idea to wait longer. Once your eye is healed, throw out all your old makeup and start fresh.
“If you’re putting on mascara, you could wipe some discharge off of the eyelash and put it back into the bottle, you could be potentially contaminating the whole product,” says Tamulavichus.
When to see a doctor
It is recommended to see a doctor if your pink eye symptoms do not start getting better within 12 to 24 hours. According to Marrelli, there are also some symptoms that are considered “red flags” and require medical attention:
- Any kind of sharp or dull pain in your eye
- Vision changes
- Loss of vision
- Significant light sensitivity
“Any time the symptoms are worsening rather than improving, you should visit your optometrist or ophthalmologist,” says Marrelli. “We have equipment that can tell us if we’re dealing with what the patient thinks we’re dealing with. Is this conjunctivitis really conjunctivitis, or is there something else going on?”
The doctor can also prescribe antibiotics, stronger antihistamine medications, or steroids that can help the healing process.
Home remedies can alleviate symptoms whether you have bacterial, viral, or allergen-related pink eye.
You can give your eye temporary relief several times a day by applying cold or warm compresses, and with artificial tears or antihistamines depending on the type of pink eye. Keep your eyes away from contacts or eye makeup, and make sure to check in with your doctor if your symptoms don’t seem better in a couple of days.
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