“‘Pink eye’ is a layman’s term which can be used to describe any condition where the eye becomes red,” Dr. Benjamin Ticho of the University of Illinois Ear and Eye Infirmary told Healthline. “Most commonly, it refers to infectious conjunctivitis. Green or yellow pus discharge usually indicates a bacterial infection, while clear or white discharge is more commonly viral in origin. Itching is most typical of allergic conjunctivitis.”
The bad news is pink eye caused by an infection is incredibly contagious and fairly unpleasant. The good news is it’s easily treated.
We consulted with several doctors around the country to learn more about pink eye, its causes, and how best to treat it.
Treatment for conjunctivitis varies. It all depends on whether you have the bacterial or viral form of the infection.
If you have the bacterial form of conjunctivitis, you’ll need to see a doctor to get an antibiotic. The prescription will be either an ointment or eye drops. “Oral antibiotics aren’t necessary,” Ticho said.
This form of conjunctivitis is self-limiting. It lasts anywhere from a few days to several weeks, much like viral colds. It’s not responsive to antibiotics. Common treatments include:
- lubricating eye drops or ointment
- antihistamines or decongestants
- hot or cold compresses
If you suspect that you have pink eye, see an ophthalmologist, a specialist in eye health, early in the course of the infection.
Natural treatments can potentially help prevent viral conjunctivitis. Eating probiotics and a diet rich in vitamins A, K, C, and B can help to improve eye health and ward off infection.
If conjunctivitis already has its pink grip on your peepers and it isn’t a bacterial infection, try these remedies to ease your symptoms.
- Wash all of your sheets.
- Take zinc supplements.
- Apply cold compresses to your eyes.
- Flush your eyes out regularly with clean water.
- Get lots of sleep.
- Hydrate well to help speed your recovery.
Everyone is at risk for pink eye. But school-aged kids are the most susceptible. Children come into close physical contact with other children during the day. Adults who live with kids who have been exposed to pink eye are prime candidates for infection as well.
“Kids are the main culprit,” Dr. Robert Noecker, an ophthalmologist, told Healthline.
Noecker explained that both bacterial and viral conjunctivitis are very robust. “They can live on a doorknob for a week,” he said. He recommended thoroughly washing hands to prevent transmission.
The best way to prevent the spread of pink eye is to practice good hygiene. Here are some tips:
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Change your pillowcases often.
- Don’t share towels, and use clean towels daily.
- Don’t share eye cosmetics, and throw away any eye cosmetics you’ve used while treating pink eye.
The CDC says that students can go to school with conjunctivitis, but only after treatment has started. If close contact with other kids is unavoidable, the CDC recommends keeping them home.
See a doctor
Ticho advises seeing a doctor in the following cases:
- The infected person is under 5 years old.
- Your vision is in any way reduced.
- The pus near your eye is green or yellow.
- Your cornea becomes opaque rather than clear.
Eye doctors are better-equipped to give a full evaluation. But if you have green or yellow pus near your eye, you can also see your primary care physician. They can evaluate your symptoms to tell if antibiotics are needed. They can also refer you to an ophthalmologist right away, if necessary.
Having pink eye isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time, but it’s easy to treat. You’ll generally be out of commission for about a week. That’s from the first sign of infection until it’s resolved. Prepare to see your doctor by making note of your symptoms, and the timeline in which you contracted the disease.
Once your physician has determined if your infection is viral or bacterial and has prescribed the right medication, you’re well on your way to being clear-eyed and healthy.