Pink eye can usually be managed at home, but it sometimes requires medical attention. If caused by bacteria, you may need antibiotics.

Pink eye, medically known as conjunctivitis, is inflammation of your conjunctiva, the moist layer of transparent tissue that lines your eyelids and the outer part of your eyeball.

Pink eye can have many causes, but the most common are:

  • allergies
  • viruses
  • bacteria

Symptoms are usually similar no matter the underlying cause. They can include:

Let’s examine how you can treat pink eye yourself and when you should see a doctor.

Pink eye is a collection of symptoms caused by inflammation of your conjunctiva. You don’t always need to see a doctor when you have pink eye since symptoms often go away on their own. Here are the typical time frames depending on the cause:

  • Viral pink eye usually goes away within 7 to 14 days.
  • Bacterial pink eye often clears up within 2 to 5 days.
  • Allergic pink eye often goes away within hours of removing the allergen trigger.

Learn more about how long pink eye lasts.

You can help support your body’s natural healing process and reduce your symptoms with home remedies like the following.

Use a cool compress or warm compress

You can make a cool compress by soaking a clean washcloth in cool water, wringing it out, and applying it to your eye for a few minutes to soothe inflammation and irritation.

Some people also find it soothing to use a warm compress. You can make a warm compress in the same way, but it’s important not to use water that’s too hot.

Over-the-counter eye drops for conjunctivitis

Over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops, also called fake or artificial tears, are available at most pharmacies and supermarkets. You can apply them to your eyes to keep them lubricated and soothe irritation.

You can apply preservative-free eyedrops as often as you need, but it’s generally a good idea to apply eye drops with preservatives no more than four times per day to avoid irritation.

Be careful not to share eyedrop bottles with other people to prevent the spread of infection.

Learn how to use eyedrops.

Avoid wearing contacts and eye makeup

Wearing contacts and eye makeup can cause you to touch your eyes and spread whatever is causing symptoms. You can pass infections to your other eye or to other people.

Get plenty of rest, eat a balanced diet, and take ibuprofen

Getting plenty of rest and eating a balanced diet can help you support your body’s natural healing process.

Learn more about eating a balanced diet.

Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen can help you reduce inflammation and discomfort.

Viral pink eye often clears up by itself. Home remedies may help support your body’s healing process.

If your symptoms are severe, a doctor may prescribe antiviral medications to help your body clear the virus. For example, doctors often prescribe antivirals for infections caused by the herpes simplex or varicella-zoster viruses.

You may also need antivirals if you have a condition that weakens your immune system, such as HIV.

Bacterial conjunctivitis usually goes away within 5 days with home remedies, but it can take up to 2 weeks. You may need antibiotics to treat serious infections.

You may need prescription antibiotics if:

  • there’s pus
  • you have a compromised immune system
  • your doctor suspects certain bacteria that can cause more serious infection

Treatment for allergic pink eye largely revolves around avoiding your triggers. A doctor may recommend OTC medications that help block the allergic reaction, including antihistamines and mast cell stabilizers.

If OTC treatments aren’t effective, a doctor may prescribe stronger medications.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends seeing a doctor if you also have any of the following:

  • eye pain
  • light sensitivity or blurred vision that doesn’t improve when you wipe discharge from your eyes
  • intense redness
  • worsening symptoms, or no improvement if bacterial pink eye doesn’t improve with antibiotics within 24 hours
  • a condition that weakens your immune system like HIV

Here are some frequently asked questions people have about pink eye.

Is pink eye contagious?

Viral and bacterial pink eye is highly contagious and easily passed between people. Pink eye caused by allergies isn’t contagious.

How can you get rid of pink eye without going to the doctor?

Pink eye often goes away by itself without medical treatment.

You can support your body’s natural healing process by getting plenty of rest and eating a healthy diet. You can manage your symptoms by keeping the affected eye clean of discharge and debris and by applying apply artificial tears and cool compresses for comfort.

Learn more about getting rid of pink eye fast.

What is the best over-the-counter medication for pink eye?

Artificial tears can help you manage eye dryness and inflammation. It’s a good idea to avoid using red-reducing eyedrops like Visine. Antihistamines or mast cell stabilizers may help treat allergic pink eye.

Should you use antibiotic eye drops for pink eye?

Antibiotic eye drops are only available by prescription. They’re only effective at treating pink eye caused by bacterial infections.

Pink eye can usually be managed at home with remedies such as artificial tears and cool compresses. Eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of rest can support your body’s natural healing process.

It’s a good idea to visit your doctor if you notice your symptoms getting worse, have severe symptoms, or have a condition that weakens your immune system like HIV.