What is pink eye?

Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, causes swelling and redness in the inside of your eyelid and the white part of your eye. Your eye may also feel itchy and painful.

Can I treat my pink eye at home?

Usually, yes. Most cases of pink eye will go away on their own. You don’t always need to see a doctor if you have pink eye.

To help your eyes feel less dry, you can use a type of over-the-counter eye drops called artificial tears. You can also use a cold compress (like a cool washcloth) to help with swelling and redness.

If your pink eye is caused by an infection, it can be contagious. You can keep it from spreading by:

  • Not sharing towels, bed sheets, or make up
  • Throwing out tissues after wiping your eyes
  • Washing your hands frequently

How long will it take for my pink eye to heal?

The type of pink eye you have will affect how long it takes to heal.

Viral pink eye, the most common type, usually gets better in 1 to 2 weeks without medicine. Sometimes, it can take 3 weeks or more to heal. Remember, antibiotics don’t help viral pink eye.

Bacterial pink eye usually gets better in 2 to 5 days, but it can take 2 weeks or more to go away completely. Antibiotics can speed up the healing time, but they aren’t always needed. If you have bacterial pink eye, ask your doctor if they recommend antibiotics for you.

If you have pink eye caused by an allergen or irritant, try to avoid the allergen or irritant. Allergy medicine and some eye drops may also help.

When do I need to see a doctor?

Sometimes, pink eye can be severe and you’ll need to see a doctor for medicine. Regular primary care doctors can treat most cases of pink eye, so you may not need to see an eye doctor. 

See a doctor if you have:

  • Moderate to severe pain in your eyes
  • Blurry vision
  • More sensitivity to light than usual
  • Intense redness in your eyes
  • More mucus in your eyes than usual during the day
  • More mucus and crustiness in your eyes than usual when you wake up
  • Symptoms that don’t go away after using artificial tears and cold compresses for a few days

It’s also important to see a doctor for pink eye if you have a weakened immune system from HIV, cancer treatment, or another medical condition.

Last updated: June 26, 2019