How to Get Rid of Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis)

By Arielle Mitton
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
January 25, 2023

Red, itchy eyes. Watery or thick discharge. Crusty eyelids when you wake up in the morning.  If you’re experiencing any or all of these symptoms, you may have pink eye. Also called conjunctivitis, pink eye is a type of eye infection or inflammation of the conjunctiva (which covers the white part of the eyeball).

While it can cause discomfort, it’s usually not serious, and often, it resolves on its own. That said, some cases of pink eye may be severe or require treatment to resolve.

Conjunctivitis is highly contagious if caused by an infection, rather than an allergy. If you think you have pink eye, talk to your health care provider or chat with a K doctor, who can help diagnose you.

Your medical provider can also recommend a treatment plan, whether home remedies or medication depending on the underlying cause of your conjunctivitis, to improve your symptoms. Read on to learn more about pink eye, possible treatments, how to prevent it, and more. 

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Tips for Getting Rid of Pink Eye

Depending on the cause, pink eye will often go away on its own. There are treatments that can help you relieve discomfort from your symptoms.

Use a warm compress

Warm compresses can soothe irritated eyes from pink eye. Soak a clean cloth in warm water, wring it out, and set it gently over your closed eyes. Let it sit on your eyes for about 10-15 minutes.  Use a new clean cloth each time you use it.

Eye drops

Over-the-counter eye drops called artificial tears can help ease symptoms. Specific eye drops with antihistamines or other medications can also be useful in cases of allergic pink eye. Remember to always wash your hands before and after using eye drops.

Wear glasses, avoid contacts

If you wear contact lenses, swap them for glasses until your pink eye is completely gone. Contacts can irritate your condition, slow down healing, and encourage the infection to spread.  If an infection caused conjunctivitis, you should remove the contacts and their case to avoid reintroducing the infection.

Getting Rid of Different Types of Pink Eye

Some types of pink eye are self-resolving, which means they resolve on their own without medical treatment. How long pink eye takes to go away — and whether pink eye needs treatment — depends on what’s causing it and how severe it is. 

Treating viral pink eye

Simple viral conjunctivitis usually clears up in a week or two without treatment, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

If it doesn’t go away on its own — particularly if the infection is caused by herpes or varicella — your doctor may recommend an antiviral medication.

Herpes infection that affects the eye also known as “herpes zoster ophthalmicus” should always be examined in person by a doctor.

Treating bacterial pink eye

Mild bacterial pink eye, in patients who do not wear contact lenses, can also get better without treatment. Typically, according to the CDC, mild cases start to resolve within 2-5 days but can take up to two full weeks to totally go away.

If the infection doesn’t resolve or if it’s severe, your healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointment to resolve symptoms and prevent the spread of your infection.

Treating allergic pink eye

Allergic pink eye usually resolves when the allergen is removed. For example, if you’re allergic to animal dander, leaving the environment with the animal could help.

If the pink eye is the result of another factor, like a pollen allergy, antihistamine medications can help relieve your allergy symptoms. Your doctor may also recommend redness-relieving eye drops called vasoconstrictors, which are available over the counter, or prescription eye drops to relieve symptoms. 

Home remedies for pink eye 

You can also improve pink eye symptoms at home, especially if your symptoms are mild or moderate. Try using a cold compress to soothe your eyes. To make your own compress, soak a clean and lint-free cloth in cool water, wring it out, and applying it to your closed eye.

Just make sure not to touch your other eye with the cloth if only one eye is infected. Basic over-the-counter eye drops (artificial tears) can also soothe discomfort from pink eye. Ask your doctor for recommendations and make sure to follow the instructions on the package to decrease your symptoms.

Even if you don’t see a doctor for your pink eye, don’t wear contact lenses until your symptoms resolve. 

Pink Eye Prevention

Viral and bacterial pink eye are highly transmissible, which means they easily spread between eyes and people. If you have pink eye, it’s important to take precautions to prevent it from spreading to your other eye or to another person. 

Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, especially after you touch your eyes or give yourself eye drops or medication. Try not to touch, itch, or rub your eyes, and don’t share anything that touches your eye with others, such as glasses, makeup, towels, or pillows. If you wear glasses, clean them routinely.

To prevent catching pink eye from someone else, you’ll want to follow many of the same principles. Wash your hands as much as you can and don’t share personal items. After a bout of pink eye, take precautions to prevent getting it again.

Clean your glasses and sunglasses, throw away any makeup or sponges you used when you had pink eye and wash your washcloths, towels, and pillowcases before using them again.

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When to See a Doctor

While pink eye rarely causes any serious medical problems, it’s important to seek medical care if you experience any of the following symptoms: 

  • Pain in your eyes
  • Blurred vision or sensitivity to light that doesn’t go away when you wipe away discharge 
  • Intense or worsening redness 
  • Symptoms that don’t get better or worsen
  • A compromised immune system from another medical condition or treatment
  • A rash on your face
  • Headache
  • If you wear contact lenses

If your doctor prescribed you antibiotics for bacterial pink eye but your symptoms aren’t improving after 24 hours of treatment, check in with your health care provider to make sure your pink eye doesn’t have another cause. 

How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can access online urgent care with K Health?

Check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed, text with a healthcare provider in minutes. 

K Health’s AI-powered app is based on 20 years of clinical data.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does pink eye last?
How long pink eye lasts depends on the type you’re experiencing. Some cases resolve on their own within a few days; others can last up to two weeks. If your pink eye isn’t going away or it’s getting worse, talk to a health care provider or reach out to a K doctor.
Will pink eye go away on its own?
Yes, pink eye can go away on its own. Many cases of pink eye resolve within a week or two, and mild bacterial pink eye can start to improve within a few days. Allergic pink eye usually resolves with treatment or by removing the allergen. If your pink eye is bothering you after a few days, talk to a doctor.
What is the main cause of pink eye?
Pink eye can stem from a number of causes. The most common cause of pink eye is the adenovirus, but you can also get pink eye from other viruses, bacteria, and allergens.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Arielle Mitton

Dr. Mitton is a board certified internal medicine physician with over 6 years of experience in urgent care and additional training in geriatric medicine. She completed her trainings at Mount Sinai Hospital and UCLA. She is on the board of the Hyperemesis Research Foundation to help women suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum.