You wake up in the morning and open your eyes… at least you try to. One eye seems to be stuck shut, and the other feels like it’s rubbing against sandpaper. You’ve got pink eye. But you also have a life and need to feel better fast.

Keep reading for a fast-acting pink eye treatment plan, plus ways to keep others from getting it.

First step: Is it bacterial?

To help you treat your pink eye the fastest, it’s important to make your best guess as to what type you have. There are four common causes of pink eye:

  • viral
  • bacterial
  • allergic
  • irritant

Viral is the most common, followed by bacterial. Viral basically means you have a cold in your eye — in fact, you’ll often have it along with a cold or upper respiratory infection.

Bacterial pink eye often occurs along with an ear or strep infection. It usually causes a lot more mucus and irritation than other pink eye causes.

If you’re having bacterial pink eye symptoms, the fastest way to treat them is to see your doctor. Your doctor can prescribe antibiotic eye drops. According to a review from the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, using antibiotic eyedrops can shorten the duration of pink eye.

Antibiotic eyedrops can shorten the duration of bacterial pink eye

It’s important to note a few things here. First, your pink eye will probably go away on its own, even if it’s bacterial.

If you have bacterial pink eye and you’re looking for the fastest way to get rid of it, eye drops can help.

Note: Antibiotic eye drops aren’t going to help the other causes — viral, allergic, or irritant. This is because in those cases, bacteria isn’t the reason you have pink eye.

Second step: Soothe your eye(s)

If you have pink eye in only one eye, your goal is to treat the affected eye without infecting the other eye. If your other eye gets infected, that will extend the length of the illness.

Keep anything you use on the affected eye away from the other eye. Also, wash your hands as much as possible, especially after you touch your eye.

Steps you can take to help your eye feel better include:

  • Place a warm, damp washcloth over your affected eye. Leave it on for a few minutes. This should help to loosen any stuck-on gunk from your eye so it can open more easily.
  • Wash your hands and use a new damp washcloth on the other eye if both of your eyes are affected.
  • Apply lubricating eye drops, usually labeled “artificial tears,” to each eye. Don’t let the tip of the eye dropper touch your eye. If you do, throw it away because it’s contaminated.
  • Wash your hands after applying eye drops.
  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

These steps can help minimize irritation so your body can keep fighting whatever is causing your pink eye.

Third step: Don’t let anyone else get it

Pink eye is highly contagious. Because you’re trying to get rid of it fast, you don’t want to give it to someone else and then get it right back after your first round resolves.

To do this, practice some eye hygiene tips:

  • Change your pillowcase and sheets every day.
  • Use a clean towel every day.
  • Wash your hands after you come in contact with potentially contaminated items and after you touch your eyes.
  • Toss contact lenses that may have come in contact with your eyes as you were getting pink eye.
  • Toss mascara and clean eye makeup brushes with soap and water to prevent recontamination.

Don’t share anything that touches your eyes (like mascara or eyedrops) with others.

Newborns can get pink eye, usually anywhere from 1 day to 2 weeks after birth. Sometimes, this is due to an outside cause like infection or a blocked tear duct.

Other times, a mom may have accidentally exposed her baby to bacteria or viruses when the baby passed through her birth canal. Examples include chlamydia, genital herpes, or gonorrhea.

Because your baby is so new to the world, it’s best to go straight to the doctor when they have pink eye symptoms. A doctor can examine the eye and recommend treatments, such as:

  • applying antibiotic eye drops or ointments
  • applying warm compresses to the eyes to reduce swelling
  • flushing the eyes with a saline solution to reduce excess mucus and pus buildup

If a newborn has an eye infection due to the bacteria that cause gonorrhea, they may need intravenous (IV) antibiotics. This type of infection can be serious and lead to permanent eye damage if left untreated.

If you’re googling pink eye remedies, you’ve probably come across some wild suggestions. Most of them will only irritate your eyes and potentially make pink eye worse. Here are some things to avoid:

  • Using anti-redness eye drops. They won’t soothe your eye and they could make your condition worse.
  • Using any kind of herbs or foods applied to the eye. They aren’t sterile or medical grade. Until doctors specifically approve them to treat pink eye, stay away from these.

If you’ve read something you’re curious to try, check with your doctor’s office first. You could save yourself from some potential eye damage and discomfort.

Not everything that looks like pink eye is pink eye. Plus, sometimes you can have a really bad case that requires medical attention. See your doctor if you have the following symptoms:

  • increased sensitivity to light
  • intense eye pain
  • problems seeing
  • significant amounts of pus or mucus coming out of your eye

If you’ve tried at-home treatments for a week and your symptoms are getting worse instead of better, see an eye doctor.

See a doctor right away if you think you have measles

Pink eye can be a manifestation of measles. It may happen before you see a measles rash, or you can have both the rash and eye symptoms.

While vaccinations have made measles less common, doctors have reported cases in the United States. Signs your pink eye could be related to measles include:

  • You haven’t been vaccinated, and there’s an outbreak in the area.
  • You also have symptoms like a very high fever and a red, blotchy rash.
  • You’re very sensitive to all light, including indoor light.

Measles can permanently damage the eyes. If you suspect your pink eye may be measles-related, see an eye doctor right away.

Pink eye will usually go away on its own in about 1 to 2 weeks. If you’re having a lot of mucus and pus, don’t go back to work or school until your eye is no longer draining to avoid infecting others.

If you have a bacterial infection and start using eye drops right away, you may be able to cut a few days off your recovery time.