How to Care for Pink Eye

Three Parts:Diagnosing Pink EyeTreating Pink EyePreventing Pink Eye

Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, is an inflammation of the membrane that lines the eye and the inside of the eyelids. Pink eye can be caused by an allergy or it can be a bacterial or viral infection. Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are both highly contagious and steps should be taken to stop the spread of the infection as quickly as possible. It is important for the heath of your eyes to identify and treat cases of pink eye quickly.

Part 1
Diagnosing Pink Eye

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    Know the symptoms of pink eye. Before beginning treatment for pink eye, you should ensure that you actually have pink eye. There are some symptoms that are common to all types of pinkeye. These common symptoms include:
    • Gritty, crusty buildup in or around the eyes
    • Pain in the eyes
    • Blurred vision
    • Itching in the eyes
    • Redness
    • Increased tearing
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    Differentiate between types of pink eye. Though there are commonalities in symptoms, the types of pink eye also present some symptoms that differ. The following are symptoms unique to bacterial, viral, and allergic conjunctivitis:
    • Bacterial pink eye usually produces a thicker, yellow-green discharge and can cause the eyelids to swell. The infection often starts with only one eye, but can spread to the other eye after several days.[1][2]
    • Viral pink eye can cause a more watery discharge.[3]
    • Allergic pink eye affects both eyes at once and is characterized by excessive itchy and watery eyes. [4] Both eyelids may swell as well.[5]
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    See your doctor for an official diagnosis. If you are not sure whether your problem is pink eye, if you think you may have a foreign body in your eye, if you wear contact lenses regularly, or you have a history of serious eye infections, go see your doctor.
    • Your doctor will talk to you to determine when the symptoms began and find out if you have a history of allergies. She may also examine your eyes and may take a sample of puss or fluid for testing.
    • Although some conjunctivitis can resolve on its own, a doctor may prescribe oral antihistamines or eye drops to help control symptoms.
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    Determine whether your pink eye is viral or bacterial. Viral and bacterial cases of pink eye are treated in different ways. Knowing which you have is therefore vital to ensuring proper care. Your doctor should be able to tell you which kind you have; do not attempt to self-diagnose.
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    Stop wearing contact lenses. If you regularly wear contact lenses, you need to stop wearing them and switch to glasses until your eyes have completely healed.[6] Discard disposable contact lenses that may have been exposed to the pink eye infection, and sterilize any lens storage equipment. Ask your eye doctor about disinfecting extended use or hard contact lenses.

Part 2
Treating Pink Eye

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    Rinse the area around the eye several times a day with water and a clean washcloth. Carefully blot the area dry using a clean washcloth; do not rub your eye with your hands.[7]
    • You can use either cold or warm compresses.[8] If you believe that an allergy is causing your pink eye, it may be best to use a cold compress. If the pink eye is caused by an infection, a warm compress may help reduce swelling and redness.[9]
    • Infections can spread from eye to eye, so use caution when you are using a compress. Use a separate compress for each eye and be sure to wash your hands between applications. Use new compresses each time you clean your eyes.
    • Start from the inside of the eye (closest to the nose) and wipe outward. Use a different part of the compress for each wipe to minimize cross-contamination.[10]
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    Irrigate your eye using an over-the-counter tear solution.[11] Particularly for allergic conjunctivitis, you may need eye drops which contain antihistamines. These can be found over the counter or they can be prescribed by your doctor. Antihistamines will reduce the swelling that is your body's natural reaction to the virus, bacteria, or allergen.[12]
    • Be sure to use artificial tears, not a solution such as Visine that has other additives in it.
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    Tailor your approach based on your doctor's recommendation. Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are treated differently. Here are the main differences:
    • If you have viral conjunctivitis, wait for the pink eye to clear up on its own. No medicines are usually used to treat viral conjunctivitis. If the patient is a child, the child can usually return to school after a period of 3 to 5 days, or after symptoms have improved.
    • If you have bacterial conjunctivitis, take your prescription antibiotics. Antibiotics usually kill the bacteria within a couple days. If the patient is a child, the child can usually return to school 24 hours after s/he has been treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics for pink eye are usually administered in the form of an eye drop or cream.[13]
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    Check for worsening with any home treatment. If you are trying to treat pink eye at home but it seems to get worse, go back to the doctor. It is possible for the cornea to be affected by the infection.[14] Look for the following signs that your pink has worsened:
    • Vision worsens (and blinking doesn't make it better)
    • Pain in the eye increases
    • Sensitivity to light increases
    • Infection develops
    • Symptoms worsen or become more frequent.

Part 3
Preventing Pink Eye

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    Use precautions to limit the spread of viral or bacterial conjunctivitis. You can easily spread viral or bacterial conjunctivitis to other people or to your other eye if only one eye is infected. You can also re-infect yourself after your pink eye has cleared. To avoid this, take the following preventative measures:
    • Do not share towels, washcloths, or pillowcases with anyone until one week after the symptoms are completely gone.
    • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water.
    • Keep your hands away from your eyes as much as possible. If you do touch near your infected eye, be sure to wash your hands with soap and water immediately.
    • Change your pillowcase, washcloth and towel daily. Wash the dirty laundry in hot water with detergent.
    • Do not use contact lenses until all symptoms of pink eye are gone. Discard disposable contacts or clean your contacts thoroughly following your doctor’s instructions before using them again to avoid re-infection.
    • Don't use eye makeup until the condition has cleared. Throw away any eye makeup that you used within a few days of the onset of pink eye symptoms, and purchase new makeup after the condition has cleared.
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    Avoid getting pink eye. Avoiding pink eye can be difficult if the virus or bacteria is spreading, but there are tangible steps that you can take to minimize the risk of contracting the infection:[15]
    • Do not share eye makeup
    • Do not share contact lenses, containers, or solutions
    • Do not share eye medicine
    • Do not share towels, pillows, linens, or handkerchiefs
    • Wash hands frequently, especially after body-to-body contact with other people
    • Wear protective eyewear in the cold, heat, or wind to protect against irritation


  • Viral conjunctivitis is typically caused by the same viruses that cause colds. It can be spread by the same methods of direct contact, or by coughing and sneezing.
  • Help control the symptoms of allergic pink eye by avoiding exposure to the allergen that caused it.[16]


  • Do not use over-the-counter eye drops that contain decongestants.
  • See a doctor if you have eye pain or light sensitivity that is so great you cannot open your eye. You should also see a doctor if your symptoms do not improve within seven days.
  • If you have had ocular surgery, you should see an eye doctor immediately upon a suspected infection.

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Categories: Eye Care