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Pink Eye: Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention


Reviewed by: Amy Hinshaw

Pink eye — also called conjunctivitis — is an inflammation of the eyeball’s outer membrane and inner eyelid. Pink eye is typically mild and resolves on its own. Home-care remedies like eyedrops and cold compresses can help relieve dryness and inflammation.

Though pink eye doesn’t normally warrant serious concern, you still might have some questions, especially if it’s your first encounter with it. For instance, how long does it last? Do eye doctors treat pink eye? Here’s your complete guide to conjunctivitis, including symptoms, how to get rid of pink eye and more.

What Does Pink Eye Look Like?

Some common early-stage pink eye symptoms include:

  • Light pink to red color in the white part of the infected eye.
  • Droopy, puffy or swollen eyelids.
  • Discharge or fluid coming from the eye.
  • Itchiness, grittiness, burning or irritation.
  • Increased tear production.
  • Crusting around your eyelids and eyelashes.
  • Matted or stuck-together eyelashes when waking up.

In some cases, pink eye may accompany cold or respiratory infection symptoms, such as a sore throat, cough or stuffy and runny nose.


How Does Pink Eye Spread?

Pink eye typically spreads through direct contact with the eye by bacteria-ridden hands or objects. This is known as viral or bacterial conjunctivitis. Bacterial pink eye is highly contagious, spreading easily from person to person. 

In other cases, you can contract pink eye from a reaction to dust mites, pollen, grass, mold, pet dander and other allergy-inducing substances. Air pollution or exposure to chemicals like chlorine may also cause pink eye symptoms. Unlike bacterial conjunctivitis, allergic conjunctivitis isn’t contagious.

You may experience symptoms in one or both eyes, depending on the cause. When pink eye results from a virus, symptoms typically begin in one eye and spread to the other one.

Who Is Most Likely to Get Pink Eye?

Anyone can contract pink eye, from infants to older adults. However, the following groups are usually at a higher risk of conjunctivitis:

  • People who recently had a respiratory infection, like a cold or cough.
  • Anyone exposed to an individual or object with conjunctivitis.
  • People exposed to something they’re allergic to, like dust or pollen.
  • Regular contact lens wearers.
  • People who don’t sufficiently clean their eyeglasses or contact lenses.
  • People who touch their eyes often after not washing their hands.
  • Children in daycare or school settings.
  • Newborn babies.

How Long Does Pink Eye Last?

Conjunctivitis usually clears up naturally in one to two weeks. However, some cases of viral conjunctivitis can take up to three weeks or longer to heal.

Pink Eye Home Treatment Methods

Most cases of pink eye will fade without treatment in a few days to a couple of weeks. In the meantime, you can alleviate dryness, inflammation and other symptoms with the following measures at home:

  • Over-the-counter artificial tears or lubricating eyedrops.
  • Warm, moist compresses to reduce swelling.
  • Cold compresses to soothe itchiness, burning or irritation.
  • Wet washcloths or tissues to clean discharge from the infected eye.

If you wear contact lenses, you should refrain from using them until your symptoms clear up. You should also stay home from work or school until the infection resolves to avoid spreading it.

Conjunctivitis Prevention Tips

Once your pink eye heals, you’ll want to avoid catching and transmitting it again whenever possible. Here are some general conjunctivitis prevention measures to note for the future:

  • Clean your eyeglasses, hard contact lenses and cases thoroughly, if you have them.
  • Don’t touch or rub your eyes.
  • Don’t share personal items like pillowcases, makeup brushes, blankets or towels.
  • Don’t touch eyedrop applicators directly to your eye.
  • Wash bedding, towels and washcloths in hot water after using them.
  • Wash and change your pillowcases regularly.
  • Wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Wash your hands before and after putting in contact lenses or applying eyedrops.
  • Wash your hands after coming into contact with an infected person or object.

How to Know if Pink Eye Is Healing

After a few days of self-care measures, symptoms like redness, crustiness, discharge, puffiness and excessive tearing should go away. To prevent reinfection after your pink eye clears up, discard the following items you used during your conjunctivitis:

  • Artificial tear or eyedrop bottles.
  • Disposable contact lenses and solutions.
  • Eye makeup or makeup applicators.

If symptoms continue or intensify after a couple of weeks, medical treatment may be necessary.

Who Do You See for Pink Eye Diagnosis?

You might be wondering who to consult for treatment in more severe instances of conjunctivitis. Do you go to a doctor or optometrist for pink eye? In most cases, regular primary physicians can treat pink eye, so you likely won’t need to see an eye doctor. Visiting an urgent care clinic may be even more viable, as it often provides quicker care.

Conjunctivitis generally clears up on its own without medical treatment, but you should see a health care provider if you experience:

  • Blurry vision.
  • Moderate to severe eye pain.
  • Intense redness, mucus or crustiness in the infected eye.
  • Heightened sensitivity to light.
  • Persisting or worsening symptoms after more than two weeks of self-care.

When receiving medical care for severe pink eye, your treatment will depend on the cause of the condition. It may include prescription eyedrops, pills, ointments or water flushes. 

Antibiotic eyedrops aren’t usually necessary since most conjunctivitis cases are virus-caused. However, a health care provider may prescribe them if they suspect your pink eye is caused by herpes simplex or bacteria.

Allergy-caused conjunctivitis may be remedied with medications that help manage allergic reactions, like mast cell stabilizers and antihistamines. Medications for inflammation control, such as steroids, decongestants and anti-inflammatory drops, may be recommended.

For more serious conjunctivitis cases, providers may prescribe antiviral medication. A medical provider can determine the type of infection you have by taking a discharge sample from your eye and sending it to a lab for testing. Assessing the cause, symptoms and severity of your pink eye can help your provider determine an appropriate plan for treatment and symptom relief.

Relieve Your Pink Eye Symptoms With Coastal Urgent Care

If you’re experiencing severe conjunctivitis and need medical attention, our team at Coastal Urgent Care can assist you. With various facilities across Louisiana, we can provide the relief you need while ensuring timely, personalized and compassionate care. We’ll customize a treatment plan to your unique needs and symptoms, helping you recover as soon as possible.

Our centers have multiple exam rooms, allowing our providers to accommodate multiple patients at once for shorter wait times. Additionally, we accept many major insurance plans to reduce out-of-pocket costs for clients. 

Skip the long hospital or emergency room waiting times and visit Coastal Urgent Care for quick conjunctivitis relief. Find a clinic near you for pink eye treatment today!

03 Relieve Your Pink Eye Symptoms With Coastal Urgent Care Min