Pink Eye and Contact Lenses: What to Know

You wake up to a slightly red, puffy eye with some discharge, and you realize you likely have pink eye. But it doesn't seem too bad, and you're wondering what to do about your contact lenses this morning. Can you take a chance and still pop them in?

Pink eye (conjunctivitis) is an inflammation of the transparent conjunctiva membrane that covers the white part of the eye known as the sclera. When the blood vessels in the area become inflamed, they swell, and the eye appears red.

Conjunctivitis is often caused by a viral or bacterial infection and can be contagious. In other instances, conjunctivitis can result from an allergy or chemical irritation caused by makeup, chlorine in pools, or even air pollution.

This article will discuss what to do about contact lens use when you have pink eye, your treatment options, and when to see a healthcare provider.

Person deciding whether to use a contact lens when waking up with pink eye

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Can I Wear Contacts If I Have Pink Eye?

Wearing contact lenses if you have pink eye should be avoided until your pink eye is gone. One reason is you should avoid touching your eyes if you have a viral or bacterial pink eye infection. The more you do, the more you are likely to spread the infection. This is also why you shouldn't wear eye makeup when you have viral or bacterial pink eye.

What's more, if you have pink eye (whatever the cause), your eye is already inflamed. Wearing contact lenses will only make this worse.

Pink Eye Treatments

Pink eye will often resolve on its own. If you are dealing with contagious pink eye, you may be given medication in certain circumstances.

Antibiotic eye drops may be prescribed if you have bacterial pink eye. While the condition may clear up without treatment, antibiotic eye drops may help it resolve in as little as two or three days.

However, antibiotic drops or ointments will not help viral pink eye. This condition will usually clear up without treatment in around seven to 10 days.

In cases in which the pink eye is caused by a chemical, like chlorine in pool water or an allergen like pollen, it's best to avoid these irritants until your eye feels better.

With any kind of pink eye, you can also try home remedies such as the following:

  • Use a cold or a warm compress a couple of times a day over your closed lids to soothe your eyes. Deciding which to use is based on individual preference. If the pink eye is contagious, use a clean washcloth each time.
  • If you have allergy-related pink eye, anti-allergy drops and other allergy medications may help.
  • Soothe dryness with over-the-counter (OTC, without a prescription) artificial tears.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

In many cases, pink eye runs its course without medical intervention. Even if you need to contact a healthcare practitioner, pink eye does not necessarily need to be treated by an eye doctor (ophthalmologist or optometrist). If necessary, your primary care provider can offer you treatment for pink eye.

You should seek treatment if:

  • Your vision becomes blurry.
  • Your eyes become more-than-mildly painful.
  • You experience light sensitivity.
  • Your eye redness increases in intensity.
  • You have a lot of crustiness around your eyes and mucus on awakening, or, as the day goes on, the amount of mucus increases.
  • After several days of home treatment, your symptoms continue without improvement.
  • Your immune system has been somewhat compromised by cancer, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), or some other condition.

When Is It Safe to Wear Contacts?

Once the pink eye is gone, it's still a good idea to wait about two days before resuming contact lens use. When you do so, it's important that you also thoroughly sterilize the case and your lenses before putting them in your eyes. If you have disposable lenses, be sure to use a new pair.

Summary

You can get pink eye from an infection such as bacteria or a virus, allergies, or exposure to chemicals. The transparent conjunctiva becomes inflamed with this condition, and irritated blood vessels make the eye appear pink.

While pink eye from most causes will go away without medical treatment, antibiotic drops may be given for bacterial pink eye. These will not help in cases caused by a viral infection, allergies, or irritants. Avoiding the irritants is recommended for pink eye associated with allergies or chemicals.

Contact lenses can also irritate the eyes. In the case of contagious pink eye, contacts can also spread germs. If you usually wear contact lenses, you should stop wearing them until a couple of days after the pink eye has resolved.

A Word From Verywell

Having even mild pink eye can be an issue for those who wear contact lenses. You should not wear them until after the pink eye has resolved. Fortunately, pink eye goes away on its own within a week or so, even without treatment. Then you can go back to wearing contact lenses, just as you did before.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can sleeping with contacts cause pink eye?

    Yes. Unless your lenses are designed to be worn overnight, you should not be sleeping in them. Inadvertently sleeping with contacts, even occasionally, can increase your risk of developing an eye infection by sixfold to eightfold.

    Wearing contacts can cause damage to the clear dome of the eye known as the cornea, and potentially let microbes in that can lead to an infection like pink eye.

  • Will pink eye go away on its own?

    Yes. Without any treatment, pink eye usually goes away in a week or two. For cases caused by more serious viruses such as herpes simplex or varicella-zoster, antiviral medication may be prescribed.

  • How soon after pink eye can I wear contacts?

    Before wearing your contact lenses again you should not only wait for your pink eye to fully resolve but also give the eye a couple of extra days to heal. When you begin to use them again, make sure to first thoroughly sterilize the lenses as well as the case. You don't want to reintroduce germs to the eye.

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7 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. Stanford Health Care. Pink eye treatment.

  3. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Can I wear contact lenses while I have pink eye?

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Conjunctivitis (pink eye): treatment.

  5. National Eye Institute. Treatment for pink eye.

  6. Cope JR, Konne NM, Jacobs DS, et al. Corneal infections associated with sleeping in contact lenses — six cases, United States, 2016–2018. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2018;67:877–881. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6732a2

  7. Food and Drug Administration. Focusing on contact lens safety.