Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye): Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

Evidence Based Article đź“„
This article has been based on relevant and up-to-date scientific studies. Our writers are unbiased and objective and present the facts as they are known. Numbers in brackets within the article refer to sources included in the reference list at the end of the article.

Also referred to as “pink eye,” conjunctivitis is one of the most eye conditions.

Even though pink eye doesn’t possess the dangerous consequences, it’s important to treat it as earlier as possible to reduce irritation and discomfort that can affect your eye health.

Since conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the inside of the eyelids and the membrane that covers the eye white called the conjunctiva, fighting inflammation should be the first task.

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When left untreated, the tiny blood vessels within the membrane can get enlarged and red, causing the red eye look.

Here are the major causes of conjunctivitis, its symptoms, and how you can treat it with little to no side effects at all.

What are the major causes of conjunctivitis?

The leading causes of conjunctivitis are bacteria and viruses, though other common causes are ultraviolet light, allergies, and environmental or chemical irritants.

Bacterial conjunctivitis is typically caused by different kinds of bacteria and is very contagious. Bacterial conjunctivitis negatively affects the eye health, which is why it requires a medical treatment that usually involves a course of the antibiotic ointment or eye drops.

Viral conjunctivitis is also highly contagious and is caused by the viruses that are responsible for the colds and flu. Viral conjunctivitis can easily be spread from person to person by rubbing the eyes blowing the nose with their eyes open.

Irritative or chemical conjunctivitis isn’t contagious and sometimes is faster to treat. It usually caused by an exposure to the irritants such as contact lens solutions, chlorine from swimming pools, makeup products, injury to the eye, foreign objects, smoke, and intense light or snow blindness, among the others.

Allergic conjunctivitis isn’t contagious as well. It generally happens in the early fall and spring and sometimes in the mid-summer. Allergic conjunctivitis is triggered by an exposure to grasses and plant pollen. Individuals who are allergic to dust mites or animals may experience allergic conjunctivitis all year long, so taking certain medications may be a must.

People with certain diseases and medical conditions, such as syphilis, tuberculosis, certain types of cancer, gout, and thyroid disease can also suffer from conjunctivitis. People with the weak immune system or chronic inflammation have a higher risk of developing pink eye as well.

What are the major symptoms of conjunctivitis?

The most visible symptoms of conjunctivitis include:

  • Tearing;
  • A pus-like discharge in one eye or in both eyes that creates a crust during the nighttime, making it hard to open the eye(s) in the morning;
  • A gritty feeling in the eye(s);
  • Sensitivity to light;
  • Itchiness and redness in the eye(s);
  • The scratchy and burning feelings.

The serious complications of conjunctivitis have rarely been reported, but as soon as you notice any symptoms mentioned above, it’s vital to speak with a doctor and start your treatment.

How to Treat Conjunctivitis

The treatment of pink eye highly depends on the type of conjunctivitis you have. If you suffer from viral conjunctivitis using eye drops like artificial tears and applying warm or cool compresses 2 to 3 times a day can help relieve the symptoms. Chronic viral conjunctivitis may require a special medical treatment.

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Allergic conjunctivitis can be treated by using antihistamine or artificial tears eye drops. The antihistamine eye drops usually include emedastine and levocabastine. In some cases, eye drops that contain mast cell stabilizers like lodoxamide, sodium cromoglycate, and nedocromil are used to relieve the harsh symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis.

Certain forms of allergic conjunctivitis may be treated by eye drops that contain ketotifen or olopatadine, which have mast-cell-stabilizing, anti-inflammatory, and antihistamine properties. The steroid eye drops like fluorometholone, prednisolone, or dexamethasone can be used to treat extreme allergic reactions.

Bacterial conjunctivitis is treated with the help of antibiotic ointments or eye drops, which is a combination of gramicidin, bacitracin, and polymyxin B. Conjunctivitis caused by irritants or allergens are harder to treat as it’s often impossible to avoid the offending allergens.

While adults can try to treat conjunctivitis at home (it’s not recommended!), children must undergo a special medical treatment. If a self-treatment for more than 2 days doesn’t help, see a doctor asap. If you have certain health conditions, especially diabetes, you shouldn’t treat conjunctivitis at home.

People using contact lenses should stop wearing them as soon as the first symptoms of conjunctivitis begin. In case the symptoms don’t get better within 14 hours, it’s a reason to visit a health care professional to be sure you aren’t developing more dangerous eye infections related to the usage of the contact lens.

How to Prevent Conjunctivitis

Most types of conjunctivitis are highly contagious, that’s why make sure you maintain good hygiene and prevent spreading the infection. Wash your hands often and avoid touching your eyes. Change your towels, washcloths, and pillowcases each day. Don’t share your towels and eye makeup products. Avoid using eye makeup products, especially mascara, or if you use be sure to throw them away after a recovery.

It’s recommended to take a day off or leave your child at home to promote healing and stop the bacteria from spreading.

11 Natural Remedies to Treat Conjunctivitis

If you don’t want to use over-the-counter medications, there are several effective natural remedies for treating pink eye. But almost all of the following remedies have some serious side effects, especially if you use them wrong. That’s why it’s highly recommended to consult a doctor before trying any of the natural conjunctivitis fighting remedies.

1.Warm milk and honey compress

Although many methods recommend using the mix of warm milk and honey as eye drops to treat pink eye, we recommend creating a compress instead.

It’s safer and can be very effective. Heat a tablespoon of a raw, whole milk and place in a small bowl. Add in a tablespoon of raw honey and mix until smooth. Soak a clean cloth or cotton pad into the mixture and place it on the affected eye. Leave for 5 minutes and remove. Do it a few times per day.

If you don’t mind using the mixture as eye drops, then carefully put 2 drops in the affected eye. It may sting at first, so don’t overdo it.

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2.Tea compress

Black, green, or chamomile tea is an excellent way to treat pink eye. The tannins found in tea help to relieve itching and fight inflammation. Black tea also contains the bioflavonoids that ward off bacterial and viral infections.

Place a slightly moist and cooled tea bag on your affected eye and leave for 8-10 minutes. Repeat 3 times throughout the day. You can also brew black tea leaves and use a weak solution of it as an eyewash to remove bacteria and discharge.

3.Calendula eyewash

If you need to quickly tame itchiness and reduce discomfort, calendula eyewash will do the trick. Calendula boasts antibacterial and antiviral properties that aid in killing the infection and healing conjunctivitis. Plus, this herb possesses a great anti-inflammatory ability, relieving irritation.

Place 2 teaspoons of fresh or dried calendula flowers in a mug and add a cup of hot water. Let it sit for at least 15 minutes, strain, and let it cool. Use it as eyewash 3 to 4 times throughout the day.

You can also use it as a hot compress. Dip a washcloth in the mixture and put on the affected eye. Leave for 4 minutes and remove. Do it 2 to 4 times a day.

4.Warm and cold compresses

In case you’re looking for a really safe way to ease the symptoms of pink eye, the warm and cold compresses are just for you. Warm compress helps to soothe the affected eye while the cold one helps to reduce the swelling and itching. Cold compresses are particularly effective in treating allergic conjunctivitis.

Place a clean washcloth soaked in cold or warm water on the affected eye and leave for 5 to 10 minutes. Do it 2-4 times during the day. If you need to place a compress on both eyes, use two separate washcloths to avoid infections.

5.Breast milk eye drops

Breastfeeding moms can treat pink eye with the help of breast milk. As strange as it sounds, this milk is a wonderful source of antibodies, such as immunoglobulin E, which help to kill viruses and infections.

Moreover, breast milk is known for its potent healing properties, thus it can help to treat ear infections and conjunctivitis, especially in babies (be sure to consult your doctor before trying this method, though!) Put 1 to 2 drops of breast milk in the inflamed eye and do it once or twice a day.

6.Holy basil eyewash

Holy basil, or tulsi, boasts an incredible healing power. Thanks to its soothing and anti-inflammatory properties, holy basil helps to protect the eyes from free radicals and environmental damage. In addition, it aids in combating fungal, bacterial and viral infections in the affected eyes.

Place holy basil leaves in hot water for 10-15 minutes, drain, and let it cool a bit. You can use the mixture as an eyewash or you can simply soak a washcloth or clean cotton pad in the mixture and use it as a compress.


There are many ways to use eyebright to treat the most common eye problems, such as pink eye, weeping eyes, sties, strained and bloodshot eyes. Eyebright has antibacterial and astringent abilities and helps to soothe the affected eye.

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Place equal parts of chamomile and eyebright in hot water and let it stand for 10 minutes. Strain the mixture and let it cool. Try using this herbal brew as an eyewash.

If you have eyebright tincture, you can use it in two ways to cure conjunctivitis. You can either add 5 drops of it to hot water and let it cool before using it as an eyewash or you can mix 2 drops of eyebright tincture, 2 tablespoons of rose water, and one tablespoon of warm water and use it as a compress. There are also eyebright tea and supplements available that can supposedly treat pink eye.

8.Aloe vera gel

This method must never be used to treat pink eye in children. Adults can benefit from it, though. Aloe vera gel contains two components, such as amodin and aloin, which have antiviral and antibacterial properties. Moreover, aloe vera has an ability to ease inflammation and promote a faster healing.

Peel a fresh aloe vera leaf and soak the chunks of the gel in a cup of lukewarm boiled water. Leave it soak until it’s pale green. To speed up the process, blend water and gel chunks until liquid and smooth. Use the mixture as an eyewash or place 1 to 2 drops of it in the inflamed eye, 2-3 times a day.

9.Neem oil

Due to its powerful soothing properties, neem oil can quickly relieve some symptoms of pink eye. It boasts antibacterial and anti-inflammatory components that fight viruses and ward off bacteria.

Place a few drops of the neem oil on a clean cotton pad and wipe around the affected eye and eyelid. Don’t use the oil as an eyewash or eye drops.

10.Saline solution

The old remedy that’s not going to disappear in the modern times, the saline solution can still help you cure conjunctivitis. Add ½ teaspoon of salt (Sea salt is optional too) to a cup of distilled water and bring to a boil.

Remove from the heat and let it cool. Use the solution as an eyewash a few times a day. Don’t use it as eye drops, though.

11.Turmeric compress

Turmeric provides the healing and antibacterial properties and it’s good at reducing inflammation.

It can be used topically to prevent certain pink eye symptoms. Add 2 tablespoons of organic turmeric powder to a cup of lukewarm, boiled water. Grab a clean washcloth or cotton pad, soak in the mixture, and apply to the affected eye as a warm compress. Leave for a few minutes and remove. Rinse your eye once with lukewarm water.

Conjunctivitis is a very common health issue that can affect both kids and adults, but an early treatment can help you get rid of this issue in 24 hours. However, it’s critical that you see a doctor to find out which type of conjunctivitis you have so that you know how to treat the issue. Pregnant women should avoid natural remedies, unless a doctor advises.