Lubricating eye drops known as artificial tears can help relieve pink eye irritation, redness, and other symptoms, but they won’t cure viral pink eye.

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Pink eye is an infection that develops in the conjunctiva, a thin membrane that lines the surface of your eye and eyelid.

One of your first instincts with a red, irritated eye may be to reach for over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops, also known as artificial tears.

Keep reading to find out more about how these lubricating eye drops work and whether they’re an effective and safe treatment for pink eye symptoms.

Artificial tears may help relieve the symptoms of pink eye. Some of the most common symptoms of pink eye include:

Note that refrigerating and then using the artificial tears can especially help relieve symptoms, cooling and soothing burning eyes.

Conjunctivitis can be caused by a viral or bacterial infection or even irritants like allergens. How much artificial tears can help improve your pink eye symptoms depends on the cause of the infection.

What is pink eye?

Pink eye is an eye infection that can cause watering, discharge, and irritation or pain. It can be caused by a virus, bacteria, or irritation.

If you think you have pink eye, there are many options for treatment. Depending on the cause of your pink eye, your healthcare team may be able to offer prescription treatments and suggest at-home remedies to help relieve your symptoms.

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Artificial tears may help relieve symptoms of certain types of pink eye, like those caused by a virus or allergic reaction. How long it takes for these artificial tears to help will depend on the severity of the infection.

Viral pink eye can take up to 3 weeks to heal. Allergic pink eye can come and go, and the best way to clear it up with or without eye drops is to avoid the irritant or allergen that is causing your pink eye.

Lubricating eye drops can also help relieve the symptoms of pink eye caused by a bacterial infection, but healing is usually faster with prescription antibiotic eye drops. However, antibiotic eye drops do not help viral conjunctivitis, and they may cause other symptoms.

Antibacterial eye drops may help clear up bacterial pink eye faster, but they’re not always necessary. In time, a bacterial pink eye infection can usually clear up without antibiotics.

Lubricating eye drops, or artificial tears, can help reduce irritation caused by any form of pink eye infection.

It’s best to avoid eye drops designed to reduce redness. They can increase your eye irritation and even worsen the infection.

Artificial tears can be soothing if you have pink eye, but they don’t do much to treat or cure the infection.

No treatments can cure a viral pink eye infection, including antibiotic eye drops.

Antibiotic eye drops also won’t treat allergic pink eye, but they can help clear up a bacterial infection faster than other types of eye drops.

Pink eye that is caused by a viral or bacterial infection is very contagious. Using artificial tears may reduce your symptoms, but they won’t your risk of transmitting pink eye to another person.

However, antibiotic eye drops can help reduce the spread of pink eye.

Lubricating eye drops like artificial tears may help reduce the symptoms of several types of eye conditions, not just pink eye.

Some eye conditions that can cause irritation or redness and be misdiagnosed as pink eye include:

Lubricating eye drops may provide some relief from these conditions, but they may also require additional treatment.

Artificial tears can help reduce feelings of itching, burning, or irritation if you have viral pink eye, but they won’t cure it.

Viral pink eye usually needs time to heal, but depending on the cause, some antiviral medications may help. Note that antibiotics will not work to treat or cure viral pink eye.

Lubricating eye drops are available over the counter and can be purchased at most retail stores.

Depending on where you shop, OTC artificial tears can cost between $2 and $15 per bottle, according to some pricing information.

You may be able to get some financial assistance or reimbursement for these medications — even those purchased over the counter — through your health insurance.

Pink eye can be caused by a viral or bacterial infection or an irritant like an allergen. Lubricating eye drops known as artificial tears can help relieve your symptoms and increase your comfort, but they can’t cure or treat pink eye.

If you decide to use artificial tears eye drops when you have pink eye, make sure they are made for lubrication and not to reduce redness. Also consider using a cold compress to help relieve pink eye symptoms.