8 Home Remedies for Pink Eye
You'll probably have to stay home anyway—make the most of it with these do-it-yourself therapies.
If bacteria are to blame for your case of pink eye, you’ll likely feel better within 24 hours of starting antibiotic eyedrops or ointment. But for viral conjunctivitis—the most common type—there’s usually not a prescription treatment.
“Just like a cold, there’s no medicine you can take to make the cold go away,” says optometrist Shira Kresch, instructor in optometric sciences at Columbia University Medical Center. “But there are a lot of things you can do to feel better.”
Here are the best home remedies for conjunctivitis to use while the condition runs its course, regardless of the underlying cause.
RELATED: 5 Pink Eye Symptoms to Watch For
A break from your contacts
If you wear contact lenses, take them out until your symptoms resolve, says Vivienne Hau, MD, an ophthalmologist with Kaiser Permanente. Not only will this reduce irritation, it also helps prevent reinfection.
Replace the pair you were wearing when you developed symptoms, along with everything else involved in wearing them—including the case and bottle of solution, Dr. Hau recommends. Also stop wearing and discard any eye makeup you were using for similar reasons.
These lubricating drops are a mainstay of pink eye home treatment. They help rinse out whatever’s irritating your eyes, be it a microbe or pet dander or a cosmetic ingredient.
Choose preservative-free varieties; not only are they formulated without potentially irritating chemicals, they also tend to come in single-use vials, which prevent you from reinfecting your eyes by touching a contaminated tip, Dr. Hau says.
Pro tip: Place the drops in the refrigerator before you use them. That way, they feel refreshing and offer relief from discomfort, burning, and itching.
One thing you don’t want to use as a pink eye home treatment, Dr. Hau says: the type of drops that pledge to reduce redness. They contain a small amount of medication that constricts blood vessels in your eyes, which can be more irritating.
Just as chilled drops can soothe your eyes from within, a cool compress can ease swelling and discomfort when applied to your face and eyelids. This is especially helpful if you have allergic conjunctivitis, and sometimes for viral pink eye.
If you’re wondering how to treat pink eye at home, “think about having a swollen ankle—you put ice on it,” Dr. Kresch says. “If you put an ice pack or a cool compress on the eyelids, that actually feels really good.”
You might also seek relief on the other side of the thermometer. Some cases of pink eye involve a thick, sticky discharge that can cause lids and lashes to stick together—especially in the morning. A warm washcloth can loosen the mucus so your lids move more freely, Dr. Hau says.
Most cases of pink eye aren’t painful—and if you do have pain, you should be examined by an eye doctor. But if you are under a doctor’s care or want relief from mild discomfort, an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen may help, Dr. Hau says.
RELATED: 7 Ways to Get Rid of Pink Eye
The same basic self-care measures that ease cold or flu symptoms can also work when you have conjunctivitis. “You want to energize your body’s immune system as much as possible to help fight off whatever’s infecting the eye,” Dr. Hau says. That means natural remedies for pink eye include plenty of rest, water, a nutritious diet, and stress relief.
Another good reason to lounge at home: When your pink eye’s caused by viruses or bacteria, you’ll want to avoid contact with others until you’re no longer contagious (after you begin treatment in bacterial cases, or for viral, as long as you have symptoms).
If you determine your case of conjunctivitis is allergic—meaning it’s due to your body’s reaction to an allergen rather than infection by bacteria or viruses—you can ease symptoms by reducing your exposure to that trigger.
For instance, perhaps you recently started using a new face wash, perfume, or detergent, or you got a new set of sheets. See if you can figure out what changed in your environment recently and remove any potential culprits, Dr. Kresch says.
If you don’t have a handle on what it is you’re reacting to, talk to your optometrist or ophthalmologist. He or she may refer you to an allergist for testing.
“These viruses are pretty hardy,” says Gene Kim, MD, associate professor of ophthalmology and visual science with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth in Houston and a member of the Robert Cizik Eye Clinic. “A lot of people get better and then they end up reinfecting themselves because it’s all over the home.”
So while cleaning house might not answer the question of how to cure pink eye, Dr. Kim always advises patients with viral or bacterial conjunctivitis to pick up a large container of wipes (think Clorox or Lysol) and get to work.
Disinfect all hard surfaces with the wipes, then wash sheets, pillows, and towels—anything that touches your face. You’ll feel much better knowing that once your first round of pink eye clears up, you won’t have to deal with another—and you might keep someone else in your family from catching it too.
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