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How to Treat Pink Eye

Pink eye is one of the most common, and easily spread, eye infections in the United States, especially among children. It refers to an inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva, the clear membrane that lines the inside of your eyelid and helps to keep your eyelid and eyeball moist.

eye infection

Pink eye is very contagious, especially among children -- who like to share everything!

Fortunately, it's as easy to treat as it is to catch.

What Causes Pink Eye?

Most often, pink eye is caused by viruses, but it can also be caused by bacteria, allergies (food or environmental), certain STDs, dry eyes from exposure to wind or sun, or an irritation to your eye (chemicals like pool chlorine, dirt, smoke, shampoo, etc.). Among newborns, pink eye can also be caused by a blocked or narrow tear duct.

Of course, the characteristic symptom of pink eye is redness in the white of your eye or inner eyelid, but it is far from the only one. Other common symptoms of pink eye include:

  • Itchiness or burning in the eyes

  • Blurred vision or sensitivity to light

  • Feeling like something is stuck in your eye (a gritty sensation)

  • Discharge from the eyes that crusts over during the night

  • Excess tearing

  • Swollen eyelids

How is Pink Eye Treated

The method for treating pink eye depends on the cause (allergic, bacterial, virus, etc.), however many cases go away on their own within seven to 10 days with no treatment.

In the case of bacterial pink eye, antibiotic eyedrops or ointment are sometimes prescribed. Pink eye caused by a virus cannot be cured with antibiotics, so the infection just has to run its course, similar to a common cold.

pink eye

If you have pink eye, avoid touching your eyes, and, since it's possible to reinfect yourself, change your washcloths, towels and pillowcases daily.

If the pink eye is caused by allergies, anti-inflammatory eyedrops may be prescribed, or it may clear on its own if the allergic trigger is removed. Meanwhile, pink eye caused by an irritating substance can be treated by washing the eye gently with warm water for five minutes to remove the substance.

Pink Eye Spreads Easily, Here's How to Avoid Spreading It (and Catching It)

You can catch pink eye very easily, through hand contact or sharing makeup, towels, bed linens and contact lenses. The infection spreads quickly among children who may rub their eyes, then come into contact with another child.

The best way to prevent pink eye is through simple hygiene practices, namely washing your hands regularly and not touching your eyes.

If you already have pink eye, it's especially important to avoid touching your eyes, and to wash your hands thoroughly if you do, to avoid spreading the infection to others. You should also discard any eye cosmetics you used during this time (especially mascara), change your washcloth and towel daily, and change your pillowcase often to avoid reinfecting your eyes.

Pink eye is rarely serious, but it can be uncomfortable. You can ease the symptoms of pink eye naturally by:

  • Not wearing contact lenses

  • Placing a warm (or cold for allergic pink eye) compress on your eyes

  • Washing your face and eyelids with a mild soap to cleanse irritating substances

  • Placing a cool, moistened chamomile tea bag on your closed eyes for 10 minutes

  • Not rubbing your eyes, which can cause further irritation

You can also try out one of the following herbal remedies from the University of Maryland Medical Center. They can be used in a compress form made by steeping 1 teaspoon of herb in 1 cup boiling water, letting the mixture cool and then straining it well. Soak the cooled liquid onto a clean, soft cloth or cotton balls and apply to your closed eyes for 10 minutes, three to four times a day. Choose from the following herbs:

  • Eyebright: Helps to fight infection and dry up excess fluid

  • Chamomile: Helps fight infection

  • Fennel seed: Helps fight infection

  • Marigold: Soothes irritation

Recommended Reading

Seven Ways to Prevent Injuries to Your Eyes

What Causes Dark Circles Under the Eyes? How Can You Prevent Them?


University of Maryland Medical Center

The Cleveland Clinic

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