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How to get rid of pink eye fast

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OTC medicationsEye dropsHome remediesWhen to speak with a doctorSummary
Pink eye typically goes away on its own in about 1–2 weeks. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications and home remedies may help speed up the healing process.
Medically reviewed by Katherine E. Duncan, MD
Updated on

Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is a term that refers to the inflammation of the conjunctiva, the membrane that covers your eyes and the inside of your eyelids. It can often affect both eyes and may result in them turning a pink or red color.

The main causes of pink eye include:

  • viruses
  • bacteria
  • allergens, such as pet dander and pollen

Conjunctivitis usually gets better when the cause of the inflammation goes away, meaning that the allergic reaction has stopped or the infection has ended. OTC medications, eye drops, and other home remedies may help reduce any discomfort.

Many treatment options are available for conjunctivitis. Doctors can recommend the most appropriate treatment for your pink eye, depending on its causes. However, some home remedies and medications may relieve your symptoms and speed up your recovery.

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications

Female sitting at a desk and putting drops into her eye.
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Several OTC medications may provide relief from pink eye symptoms.

If the cause of conjunctivitis is an allergy, you may find that your recovery speeds up by taking antihistamines. These medications block the action of histamine, which triggers your immune system when you come in contact with allergens. Antihistamines come in the form of topical ointments and oral tablets.

Topical antihistamines for pink eye may include:

Oral antihistamines for pink eye may include:

If you have pink eye, you can take OTC medications such as ibuprofen or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve pain. 

This type of pink eye typically goes away without treatment within 7–14 days. However, the most severe cases of viral conjunctivitis may take up to 3 weeks to clear completely. OTC pain relief medications may help you manage the symptoms of viral conjunctivitis during its course.

If you need help covering the cost of medications, Optum Perks free Discount Card could help you save up to 80% on prescription drugs. Follow the links on drug names for savings on that medication, or search for a specific drug here.

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Eye drops

Lubricating eye drops, also known as artificial tears, may relieve pink eye and help keep your eye clean from allergens. Artificial tears can play an important role in preventing and managing allergic conjunctivitis by reducing itchiness and inflammation.

If your pink eye is due to a bacterial infection, a doctor may prescribe you antibiotic eye drops or ointments that you can apply to your eye to treat the infection. Bacterial pink eye typically improves within 2–5 days, but it can take up to 2 weeks to go away completely.

Antibiotic eye drops for bacterial conjunctivitis may include:

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Home remedies

Several home remedies may help you manage and speed up pink eye recovery, including the following:

Cool compress

Cool compresses may help reduce inflammation and improve pink eye symptoms. You can make a cool compress by soaking a clean washcloth in cold water and squeezing out any excess water. When the cool compress is ready, you can hold it over the eye for a few minutes.

If a viral or bacterial infection is causing your pink eye, you must not reuse washcloths as this can increase the risk of spreading the infection to your other eye or other people in your household. Wash the used washcloth in hot water after each compress. Use two different washcloths if you want to apply a cold compress on both eyes.

Eye hygiene

Bacterial pink eye may cause a watery or pus discharge from the eye with the infection. This discharge can dry and form a crust on your eyelids, causing discomfort and difficulties opening your eye.

Cleaning your eye using a clean, warm, damp cloth can help remove crusts and pus from your eye and eyelids.

Other tips

Bacterial or viral pink eye is highly contagious. You should avoid touching your eye when possible, as this can cause the infection to spread to your other eye or other people. Touching your eye without washing your hands may also worsen your conjunctivitis.

If you have conjunctivitis, always wash your hands before and after cleaning your eyes. You should avoid wearing makeup or contact lenses until the symptoms go away.

When to speak with a doctor

In some cases, you may need to contact a doctor if you have pink eye. It depends on what kind of conjunctivitis you have developed and how severe its’ symptoms are.

You should immediately contact a doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • eye pain
  • impaired vision
  • light sensitivity
  • if your symptoms are getting worse or have lasted for 1 week or more
  • significant mucus or pus discharge from your eye
  • if you develop other symptoms of infection, such as fever or malaise

The doctor can help identify the most suitable treatment options to help relieve your symptoms.

Summary

Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, is a condition that causes inflammation of the membranes that cover the inside of your eyelids and your eye. Pink eye typically goes away on its own within a couple of weeks.

However, OTC medications, eye drops, and home remedies can help speed your recovery and improve your symptoms. Sometimes, a doctor may prescribe antibiotic medications to treat bacterial pink eye.

If you experience eye pain, light sensitivity, or vision problems, contact a doctor immediately.

Download the free Optum Perks Discount Card to save up to 80% on some prescription medications.

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