Is There a Home Remedy for Pink Eye?

Waking up with an irritated eye can quickly ruin your day. Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, is a common condition. There are several types of pink eye and different ways to treat each at home—most incidences of pink eye resolve on their own.

However, if at-home treatment doesn’t help resolve symptoms or symptoms worsen, it’s best to seek medical attention right away. People should also be cautious if a child has pink eye symptoms because they can be a sign of a more serious condition.

Close-Up Of Woman Putting Drop In Eye

Getty Images / Artinun Prekmoung / EyeEm

Pink Eye in Children

Because pink eye is a symptom of measles, a serious and contagious virus with no cure, it’s important to promptly treat children with pink eye to rule out a possible case of measles in an unvaccinated child.

If a child has been vaccinated, pink eye is probably just a regular case of pink eye, and at-home treatment is usually sufficient to treat the condition. People should keep a close eye on the irritated eye to check for additional or worsening symptoms that might require a doctor’s care.

Pink Eye and Measles

In children with malnutrition, measles can eventually cause blindness. A measles vaccine called the MMR vaccine exists, but no antiviral treatment is available should a person contract the disease. Other symptoms of the measles include:

  • Red blotchy rash
  • High fever
  • Light-sensitivity

Treating Bacterial or Viral Pink Eye

It can be challenging to tell which kind of pink eye you have on your own. However, most mild cases of viral pink eye go away on their own. 

There’s no treatment for viral pink eye, so taking care of the viral infection requires managing symptoms. Healing typically takes about a week or two.

Bacterial pink eye may produce pus or mucus and may require a course of antibiotics, though not always. Antibiotics are useless for viral pink eye.

You can treat symptoms of pink eye at home by:

  • Take over-the-counter (OTC) non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) to help with any pain you’re experiencing. 
  • Use eye drops for lubrication. Artificial tears can help get the gunk out of your eyes and prevent dryness that increases irritation. 
  • Apply a warm compress to your eye (or eyes) for several minutes, repeating a few times a day or as needed to soothe your irritated eyes. Always use a clean washcloth to prevent spreading the infection. If you have pink eye in both eyes, use two separate washcloths.

If you usually wear contact lenses, stop wearing them. When your eyes feel better, wear a new pair to prevent reinfecting your eye(s). Don’t wear makeup while you’re fighting off the infection and throw away makeup that’s been in contact with your eyes (e.g., mascara, eye shadow, eyeliner, etc.) 

Another type of pink eye is sexually transmitted pink eye. It happens in newborns birthed vaginally by mothers with an active sexually transmitted infection (STI) and requires treatment with antibiotics. 

Avoid Ointments and Herbs

Don’t apply anything else to your eyes unless it’s been approved by a doctor. Ointments and herbal concoctions may seem like a good idea, but they can compound the problem and further irritate your eyes.

Allergic Conjunctivitis

ink eye can also be the result of allergies. The key to treating allergic pink eye is to avoid and stop using or exposing yourself to the allergen. This form of pink eye is not contagious, but that doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly annoying and uncomfortable! 

Solutions for treating allergic pink eye include:

  • Use OTC antihistamines to reduce allergy symptoms like itchy, watery eyes. You can take these in pill or drop form. 
  • Use a cool washcloth to reduce eye irritation. Apply for a few minutes.
  • Apply artificial tears to prevent your eyes from drying out too much and causing further irritation. 

Pink Eye From Irritants

You can also get pink eye by exposing your eyes to irritants like chemicals or makeup products.

If you’re not sure what could be causing the issue, think about what you’ve recently added to your beauty or skincare routine. Have you tried any new eye creams? Stop using any products you suspect may be causing an allergic reaction and throw them out.

When to See a Doctor

 Most of the time, pink eye will resolve on its own. But some symptoms warrant a doctor’s attention. These include:

  • Vision troubles
  • Pain 
  • Sensitivity to light: Especially if you are having trouble with indoor light, this can be a sign of severe eye damage.
  • Excess mucus or pus production
  • Symptoms that aren’t getting better on their own and may be getting worse
  • Signs of an infection like a fever or body pains

Quick Tip

A warm compress can help loosen the sticky, crusty mess that’s causing your eyelids to stick together. 

Prevent Spreading Pink Eye

Viral and bacterial pink eye are contagious. You can spread the infection from eye to eye or other people. If you have pink eye, it’s important to wash items that have been in close contact with your eyes to prevent the spread of the infection. Items may include:

  • Pillowcases
  • Sheets
  • Towels
  • Makeup tools 

It’s important to wash your hands before touching your face and eyes—this rule always applies. You can prevent catching several viruses by washing your hands frequently and before touching your eyes and face. Don’t share the above-listed items with other people, either, since you may spread the infection to someone else.

Home Remedies to Avoid

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, people with pink eye should avoid eye drops designed to reduce redness since they can cause burning and irritation.

Some people might recommend using breast milk to help with pink eye in children, but this folk wisdom is not supported by research. Putting breast milk into a child's or adult person’s eye can spread bacteria.

There are anecdotal reports that people have found success in using tea bags to cure pink eye. However, there's no solid evidence that they can help treat an infection. There's even the possibility that putting tea bags on or around your eyes could exacerbate the problem and further irritate your eyes.

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Article Sources
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  1. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Quick home remedies for pink eye. October 29, 2020.

  2. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Six ways measles can affect the eyes. March 5, 2015.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Conjunctivitis (pink eye). January 4, 2019.

  4. Pink eye and your child: Symptoms, treatment & prevention. Children’s Hosptial Los Angeles.

  5. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Quick home remedies for pink eye. October 29, 2020.

  6. Baynham JTL, Moorman MA, Donnellan C, Cevallos V, Keenan JD. Antibacterial effect of human milk for common causes of paediatric conjunctivitis. British Journal of Ophthalmology. 2013;97(3):377-379. doi: 10.1136/bjophthalmol-2012-302833

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