What Kind of Eye Drops Can Help Treat Pink Eye?

Pink eye, otherwise called conjunctivitis, is a common condition. Some types of conjunctivitis can be treated with antibiotic eye drops, but this is not the solution for other common types.

Conjunctivitis involves inflammation of the conjunctiva (the membrane that covers the white portion of the eye). The conjunctiva provides lubrication to the eye's surface. It also has many blood vessels that can become inflamed.

As the infection inflames the eye, the blood vessels expand and turn the eye its distinct pink color. Pink eye has various causes, including infections and allergies. There are two types of contagious pink eye—viral and bacterial.

Viral conjunctivitis can produce symptoms of the common cold and cause the whites of the eyes to become red and cause a watery discharge that may last up to a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, bacterial conjunctivitis can also cause a red eye that may or may not have a mucus discharge.

Pink eye is something that the body can fight off on its own. There is no curative treatment for viral conjunctivitis. Bacterial conjunctivitis can resolve without treatment, or it may be treated by prescription medications. You may be examined by a healthcare provider to see if you might have treatable bacterial pink eye.

This article will highlight the role of eye drops for pink eye, consider other treatment options, discuss when to see a healthcare provider, and discuss preventive measures.

Eye drops to be used by person with pink eye

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Eye Drops for Pink Eye

Only pink eye caused by bacteria can be treated. If you are diagnosed with the bacterial type, you will be prescribed antibiotic medication. This may come in the form of either drops or ointment. Eye drops are common. Eye drops to treat bacterial conjunctivitis may have to be taken up to four times a day.

Types of antibiotic eye drops your primary care provider or eye doctor (ophthalmologist or optometrist) may prescribe include:

  • Polytrim (trimethoprim/polymyxin B)
  • Polysporin (bacitracin/polymyxin B)
  • Neosporin Ophthalmic (bacitracin/neomycin/polymyxin B)
  • AzaSite (azithromycin)
  • Vigamox or Avalox (moxifloxacin)
  • Quixin (levofloxacin)
  • Ocuflox (ofloxacin)
  • Ciloxan (ciprofloxacin)
  • Tobrex (tobramycin)
  • Garamycin, Genoptic (gentamicin)

Other Treatment Options

Since pink eye is the kind of infection that the body can often clear on its own, you may find relief from at-home remedies.

Some steps you can take to lessen symptoms include:

Warm Compress

To use a warm compress, take a clean washcloth, run it under warm water, and wring it out. Place this on your closed eyelids until it cools down. This can soothe eyes and help loosen any dried mucus that may make your eyelids stick together. Repeat as often as you need but with a clean washcloth each time.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

While pink eye generally resolves itself over the course of a couple of weeks, it still is important to get the condition checked by a healthcare provider or an eye doctor at times. Even if you're sure this is just pink eye, be sure to call a healthcare provider if:

  • Your eye is becoming light-sensitive.
  • You begin experiencing eye pain.
  • Your vision becomes affected.
  • You notice a lot of mucus.
  • You're also experiencing non-eye-related symptoms such as fever and achiness.
  • You've had the infection for a week and it's not improving or is actually starting to get worse.

Preventing the Spread of Pink Eye

Unfortunately, viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are extremely contagious. If one family member has pink eye, the rest of the household can easily get it. To keep this from happening, here are some tips:

  • Use clean, separate towels for each family member and change these every day.
  • Change linens, including both pillowcases and sheets, every day.
  • Keep your hands clean, washing them often, particularly after coming into contact with your eye.
  • Try to avoid touching your eyes.
  • Don't put anything, such as contact lenses, in your eyes while they are infected.
  • Avoid sharing anything that may have come in contact with the eye, such as makeup.

Summary

Anyone can get a pink eye infection. The conjunctival membrane can appear red and inflamed as blood vessels swell. Also, mucus can collect in the eye. It isn't always necessary to treat pink eye since the body can often heal such infections on its own.

There is no cure for viral pink eye. Bacterial conjunctivitis can be treated with antibiotic drops and ointments. In addition, there are home remedies that can help with any type of pink eye, including artificial tears and warm compresses.

Pink eye is very contagious. To stop the spread, it's important to wash your hands often and avoid sharing any towels and linens with family members while even one person has pink eye.

A Word From Verywell

While very contagious, pink eye is, fortunately, one of those conditions that often resolves on its own. Still, there are times when treatment is called for. When in doubt, check with a healthcare provider. Antibiotic drops can help bacterial conjunctivitis, but bacterial conjunctivitis, like viral pink eye, can be self-limiting.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What eyedrops are used for pink eye?

    Antibiotic eye drops can be used for bacterial conjunctivitis. This includes Polytrim, Polysporin, and AzaSite, as well as more powerful types of antibiotics. In addition to drops, antibiotic ointments may also be prescribed in some cases.

  • Can I get antibiotic eye drops over the counter?

    No. Antibiotic eye drops must be prescribed by a healthcare provider. You cannot find these on store shelves. Antibiotic drops will not work for just any pink eye infection, and these need to be monitored to ensure proper usage.

  • How can you tell if pink eye is bacterial or viral?

    A healthcare provider may be able to tell based on your history and symptoms and by examining the eye. Even then it can be difficult to distinguish these. It often comes down to laboratory testing to determine whether conjunctivitis is caused by a virus or a bacteria.

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5 Sources
Verywell Health 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. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Conjunctivitis.

  3. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Pink eye: quick home remedies.

  4. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Antibiotic eye drops.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Conjunctivitis (pink eye).