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 conjunctivitis (pink eye), you'll likely feel better within 24 hours of starting antibiotic eyedrops or ointment, according to a 2019 review in the journal Cornea. But for viral conjunctivitis—the most common type—there's usually no prescription treatment.

"Just like a cold, there's no medicine you can take to make it go away," explained optometrist Shira Kresch O.D., instructor in optometric sciences at Columbia University Medical Center. "But there are a lot of things you can do to feel better," Dr. Kresch said.

Here are the best home remedies you can use for conjunctivitis while the condition runs its course, regardless of the underlying cause.

A Break From Your Contacts

If you wear contact lenses, take them out until your symptoms resolve, advised Vivienne Hau, MD, an ophthalmologist with Kaiser Permanente. This will reduce irritation, and 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 recommended. Also, for the same reason, stop wearing and discard any eye makeup you were using around the time your symptoms started.

Artificial Tears

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 that are formulated without potentially irritating chemicals, advised Dr. Hau. It's also a good idea to use single-use vials, which prevent you from reinfecting your eyes by touching a contaminated tip, Dr. Hau said.

Pro tip: Place the drops in the refrigerator before you use them. This can help make them feel refreshing and offer relief from discomfort, burning, and itching.

Dr. Hau said that you shouldn't use 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, explained Dr. Hau.

Cold Compresses

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 it can provide relief when you have viral pink eye, a 2020 review published in Allergy, Asthma, and Clinical Immunology explained.

If you're wondering how to treat pink eye at home, "think about having a swollen ankle—you put ice on it," Dr. Kresch said. "If you put an ice pack or a cool compress on the eyelids, that actually feels really good," added Dr. Kresch.

Warm Washcloths

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 said.

Over-the-Counter Anti-inflammatories

Most cases of pink eye aren't painful—and if you do have pain, you should be examined by an eye doctor. If you are under a doctor's care and want relief from mild discomfort, an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen may help, said Dr. Hau.

Rest

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 advised. That means natural remedies for pink eye include plenty of rest, water, a nutritious diet, and stress relief, added Dr. Hau.

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, which is after you begin treatment in bacterial cases, or as long as you have symptoms in viral cases, according to the Cornea review.

Minimizing Allergens

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, said the Allergy, Asthma, and Clinical Immunology review.

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 advised.

If you don't have a handle on what it is you're reacting to, talk to your optometrist or ophthalmologist. They may be able to figure out what's causing your symptoms or they may refer you to an allergist for testing.

Disinfectant Wipes

"These viruses are pretty hardy," 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 told Health. "A lot of people get better and then they end up re-infecting themselves because it's all over the home, Dr. Kim said.

Disinfect all hard surfaces with wipes, and 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.

So while cleaning the house might not cure pink eye, Dr. Kim said that he always advises patients with viral or bacterial conjunctivitis to pick up a large container of wipes (think Clorox or Lysol) and get to work.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles