8 Home Remedies for Pink Eye

You'll probably have to stay home anyway, so make the most of it with some do-it-yourself therapies.

Pink eye—medically called conjunctivitis—is like getting the common cold in your eye. Most times your symptoms will be mild, but they can become worse and might require a visit to your doctor. Two types of this condition are highly contagious and can spread quickly in a group—especially with children where they touch surfaces and each other and then touch their faces. A third version is brought on by allergies. Here are some of the best home remedies for pink eye while you wait for the condition to run its course, regardless of the underlying cause.

Symptoms most often include itching, burning, swelling, and redness. You might also have a mucus-like discharge from the eye. Sometimes pink eye can cause you to have blurry vision or be sensitive to light.

Bacterial vs. Viral Conjunctivitis

If bacteria are to blame for your conjunctivitis (pink eye), you'll likely feel better within 24 hours of starting antibiotic eyedrops or ointment, per a review published in 2019 in Cornea.

But there's usually no prescription treatment for viral conjunctivitis, the most common type of pink eye which usually comes on after a respiratory infection according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"Just like a cold, there's no medicine you can take to make [viral conjunctivitis] go away," Y. Shira Kresch, OD, optometrist, and director of optometry at the Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, told Health. "But there are a lot of things you can do to feel better."

Take a Break From Contacts

If you wear contact lenses, take them out until your symptoms resolve, Vivienne Sinh Hau, MD, an ophthalmologist with Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, Calif., told Health. Also, taking a break from your contacts will reduce irritation and help prevent reinfection.

Replace the pair you were wearing when you developed symptoms. You'll also want to replace everything else involved in wearing the contacts—including the case and bottle of solution, recommended Dr. Hau. 

Also, for the same reason, stop wearing and discard any eye makeup you used around when your symptoms started. 

Artificial Tears

Artificial tears are lubricating drops, a mainstay of treating pink eye at home, according to an article published in 2022 in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences. Artificial drops help rinse any irritants in your eyes—be it a microbe, pet dander, or cosmetic ingredient.

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

Another tip: Place the drops in the refrigerator before you use them. The cold temperature can refresh the drops and relieve discomfort, burning, and itching.

Dr. Hau recommended avoiding eye drops that claim to reduce redness. Those drops contain small medicines that constrict blood vessels in your eyes. And those medicines can cause more irritation, explained Dr. Hau.

Cold Compresses

Just as chilled drops can soothe your eyes from within, a cool compress can ease swelling and discomfort when you apply it to your face and eyelids. 

Cool compresses are beneficial if you have allergic conjunctivitis. And sometimes, the cold temperatures can relieve viral pink eye, per a review published in 2020 in Allergy, Asthma, and Clinical Immunology.

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

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.

Dr. Hau said a warm washcloth could loosen the mucus so your lids move more freely.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Anti-Inflammatories

Most cases of pink eye aren't painful. But if you have pain, you should consult an ophthalmologist for an examination. 

Dr. Hau said that if you are under a healthcare provider's care and want relief from mild discomfort, an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever—like Advil (ibuprofen)—may help.

Rest Helps With Pink Eye

The same basic self-care measures that ease common cold or flu symptoms can also work when you have pink eye. 

"You want to energize your body's immune system as much as possible to help fight off whatever's infecting the eye," advised Dr. Hau. 

According to Dr. Hau, natural remedies for pink eye may include: 

  • Plenty of rest
  • Drinking water to stay hydrated
  • A nutritious diet
  • Stress relief

Another good reason to lounge at home: If viruses or bacteria cause pink eye, you'll want to avoid contact with others until you're no longer contagious. 

You are no longer infectious after you begin treatment in bacterial cases or if you have viral symptoms.

Minimizing Allergens

If your case of pink eye is allergic, you can ease symptoms by reducing 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 has changed in your environment recently. Then, remove any potential culprits, Dr. Kresch advised.

Talk to your healthcare provider if you don't know what you're reacting to. They may be able to figure out what's causing your symptoms, or they may refer you to an allergist for evaluation.

Disinfectant Wipes

"These viruses are pretty hardy," Gene Kim, MD, associate professor of ophthalmology and visual science with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth 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, 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, cleaning the house might not cure pink eye. But Dr. Kim advised anyone with viral or bacterial pink eye to pick up a large container of disinfectant wipes and get to work.

A Quick Review

Bacterial pink eye is easily treated with antibiotics, helping you feel better within 24 hours. But antibiotics don't work for viral pink eye, the most common type of pink eye. At-home remedies may offer some of the best relief while dealing with viral pink eye. 

Try artificial tears, cool or warm compresses, or rest, among other remedies for relief from viral pink eye. And remember to replace infected contact lenses, cases, saline solution, eye makeup, pillow cases, and sheets to prevent reinfection.

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Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Conjunctivitis (pink eye). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  3. National Eye Institute. Pink eye.

  4. Labetoulle M, Benitez-Del-Castillo JM, Barabino S, et al. Artificial Tears: Biological Role of Their Ingredients in the Management of Dry Eye DiseaseInt J Mol Sci. 2022;23(5):2434. doi:10.3390/ijms23052434

  5. Dupuis P, Prokopich CL, Hynes A, Kim H. A contemporary look at allergic conjunctivitisAllergy Asthma Clin Immunol. 2020;16:5. doi:10.1186/s13223-020-0403-9

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