If you have pink eye, drops will only help if bacteria or an allergic reaction causes it. Pink eye is often caused by a virus, so it will often get better without eye drops. Contact a healthcare professional to be sure.

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Conjunctivitis is more commonly known as pink eye because the inflammation makes the white of the eye appear red or pink. It develops when the thin membrane that covers the eye and inside the eyelid, called the conjunctiva, gets inflamed.

Many people may use eye drops as part of treating pink eye. But the drops don’t always work. Sometimes, they can worsen pink eye.

Here’s what to do if your pink eye worsens or doesn’t get better, even when using eye drops.

Read on for more information about conjunctivitis.

Many eye drops are available. Some may be helpful for pink eye, some drops may not make any difference, and others may worsen symptoms.

You can try natural tear drops to help relieve symptoms of dryness, itchiness, and irritation. These are also called lubricating drops. They can help increase the amount of moisture in your eye. They won’t treat pink eye but can help make your eye feel better. It may help to store these drops in the refrigerator.

A healthcare professional might prescribe antibiotic drops if your pink eye occurs from a bacterial infection. If the pink eye is viral or occurs from an allergen, antibiotic drops usually won’t help.

If you’ve got pink eye due to allergies, lubricating eye drops may help soothe your eyes. Antihistamine eye drops can lower your eye’s allergic response and may relieve your symptoms.

Redness-reducing drops are also available. They work by shrinking the inflamed blood vessels in your eyes. This reduces the appearance of redness. However, many healthcare professionals don’t recommend these drops in general.

These drops may be fine for occasional use, but they usually don’t treat pink eye and may cause more eye redness with ongoing use.

Pink eye can occur from bacteria, viruses, or allergic reactions. The symptoms can be similar, making it hard to know what causes your pink eye.

Generally, a bacterial infection causes more discharge and can cause the eye to become crusted shut in the morning.

A healthcare professional can ask about other symptoms to determine what type of pink eye you have. This can help narrow down the cause.

A virus is the most common cause of pink eye. According to a 2023 research review, 80% of all cases of pink eye occur from a virus. Antibiotic drops can kill bacteria but won’t help viral pink eye since it occurs from a virus rather than a bacteria.

Many times, if you have pink eye, you may not need medical attention, but it may still be a good idea to speak with a healthcare professional.

Other conditions can cause your eye to become red and irritated. A healthcare professional can help rule out other causes, determine why your symptoms don’t improve, or review other symptoms you may have.

A doctor must examine newborns with pink eye right away.

You may need to contact a doctor if you take medications that lower your immune function or have:

  • a painful eye
  • symptoms that worsen
  • another health condition that affects your immunity
  • vision changes such as light sensitivity or blurry vision

Pink eye doesn’t always need treatment. It can often resolve on its own. It can take 7–14 days for symptoms to resolve.

Sometimes, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication if they think a virus causes your pink eye. But if pink eye occurs from a virus that causes the common cold, there are currently no antiviral medications to treat these viruses.

Medical treatment

If pink eye occurs from a bacterial infection, antibiotic drops may help. But not everyone with pink eye due to bacteria may need treatment. Mild bacterial pink eye may resolve on its own.

If pink eye occurs from an allergic reaction, treatment might include avoiding or limiting exposure to the allergen. Medications that treat allergy symptoms can be helpful to reduce itchiness and redness of the eyes and can include:

Home remedies

Pink eye usually goes away on its own. But you can reduce symptoms and redness with these home remedies:

  • Use a cold compress to help reduce swelling.
  • Apply a warm compress to soothe irritated eyes and gently wipe away any buildup or crust on the eye.
  • Avoid wearing contact lenses until your pink eye resolves.
  • Wash your hands, towels, and any cloths you use on your face to help avoid transmitting pink eye to your other eye.
  • Put lubricating eye drops in your eyes to make them more comfortable.

Pink eye can often feel annoying and uncomfortable, but it doesn’t usually cause lasting health effects.

Just like a common cold, pink eye can eventually resolve on its own. And several ways can help ease the symptoms.

When should I use drops?

If your healthcare professional prescribes drops, it’s a good idea to use them as prescribed. But antibiotic drops can only work if your pink eye is due to bacteria. These drops won’t help allergic or viral pink eye.

If your pink eye is part of an allergic reaction, antihistamine eye drops might be helpful. Lubricating drops can be soothing if your eyes feel dry and gritty.

Experts usually don’t recommend redness-reducing eye drops to help with pink eye.

How do I know what caused my pink eye?

You won’t always know whether your pink eye occurs from bacteria, viruses, or allergens. Contacting a healthcare professional can help discover the cause of your pink eye.

If it occurs from an allergy, you may have other allergy symptoms. If you get seasonal allergies, you might notice patterns in developing allergies when you get pink eye.

A virus is the most common cause of pink eye. If you develop pink eye with a cold or another virus, it may be viral pink eye.

Bacterial pink eye usually has a more greenish-yellow discharge than the white discharge of viral pink eye.

Pink eye doesn’t always need treatment. Often, it can resolve on its own without treatment. Since many cases of pink eye occur from viruses, antibiotic drops won’t help those.

You can soothe your symptoms with home remedies like putting warm and cold cloths on your eyes and using lubricating drops. You may need to contact a healthcare professional if symptoms worsen or last for more than a few days.