Pink eye, which is less commonly known as conjunctivitis, happens when the transparent membrane of the eyelids (also called conjunctiva) gets infected and the blood vessels in the eye become more prominent and visible.
Blood vessel dilation and inflammation, coupled with the fact that conjunctiva covers the whites of the eyes (sclera) is what causes them to appear pink, red or “bloodshot” after infection.
Pink eye is often contagious, can happen in one or both eyes and usually does not damage vision.
Diagnosing and treating the infection quickly prevents it from spreading to others. Taking preventative measures is typically effective for avoiding pink eye, however, once infected, treatment is fairly fast, simple and effective.
People of all ages can contract pink eye, however the condition mainly affects those who spend a lot of time around others such as preschool and school age children, teachers, daycare workers and college students.
Signs and Symptoms
The main indication of infection with pink eye is having an eye that looks pink or red. However, there are several additional symptoms depending on the type of conjunctivitis infection.
- Viral Conjunctivitis
While the infection is caused by several factors, many medical professionals only regard viral conjunctivitis as “pink eye”. The infection spreads easily through coughing and sneezing due to its highly contagious nature.
- Eye redness
- Light sensitivity
- Itchy eyes
- Watery eyes
- Bacterial Conjunctivitis
Bacterial conjunctivitis transfers to the eyes through direct contact with an object carrying the bacteria, such as dirty hands.
- The primary symptom of bacterial conjunctivitis is a sticky discharge in the corners of the eyes that is usually yellow or greenish-yellow.
- The discharge often causes eyelids to stick together after sleeping if the infection becomes severe.
- Allergic Conjunctivitis
While allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious, it can cause severe discomfort to individuals suffering with it.
- Watering eyes
- Feeling “grit” in the eyes
- Runny and stuffy nose
- Sensitivity to light
Causes: How Do You Get Pink Eye?
The specific type of conjunctivitis is directly related to the cause that leads to the infection.
- Viral Conjunctivitis
As the name suggests, viral conjunctivitis is caused by contracting a virus, typically spread via infected secretions (through direct or indirect contact). Although this type of pink eye clears quickly and without treatment, it is extremely contagious and is often linked to the common cold or respiratory issues such as a sore throat infection.
- Bacterial Conjunctivitis
With the ability to cause critical and permanent damage to eyes, bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria and affects more children than adults. It is usually spread by the eyes making contact with bacteria-covered objects such as fingers or contact lenses.
- Allergic Conjunctivitis
Allergic conjunctivitis, which affects both eyes and can be year-round or seasonal, happens when common allergens such as animal dander, chemical fumes, pollen and dust get into the eyes. Irritants and other foreign objects entering the eyes can also trigger allergic conjunctivitis.
The body releases immunoglobulin E (antibodies) in response to allergens and in turn triggers inflammation (histamines) by way of mast cells in the lining of the eyes.
Pink eye caused by allergies usually goes away quickly once the irritant is flushed from the eyes.
Additional causes of pink eye include, blepharitis, dry eyes and other infections of the eyes.
During childbirth, as a newborn passes through the birth canal it is exposed to any bacteria that is present. If the bacteria gets into the infants eyes it can cause a rare form of conjunctivitis infection (known as ophthalmic neonatorum), which can permanently damage eyes if not treated immediately after birth with antibiotic ointment.
It usually takes between three and seven days for pink eye to clear once treatment begins. However, individuals with the infection can remain contagious for a full week, which is why experts recommend treating both eyes any time pink eye is suspected, even if it is only apparent in one eye.
Home Remedies for Pinky Eyes
The following home remedies help provide relief from pink eye and its symptoms.
- Raw Honey
The antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antibiotic properties contained in honey make it powerful for fighting infection brought on by pink eye. If possible, use Mauka honey for treating conjunctivitis, as it has high levels of an inflammation fighting compound known as dihydroxyacetone.
Milk and honey combined are a potent remedy for clearing pink eye and other bacterial infections.
- Combine a tablespoon of water (or milk), a tablespoon of raw honey, and a pinch of salt before warming the mixture slightly.
- After mixture has cooled use an eyedropper to apply a few drops to each eye.
- Combine three tablespoons of honey with two cups of water (or milk).
- Boil the mixture and stir until the honey dissolves completely.
- Let the mixture cool to room temperature before using it to wash the affected eye.
- Breast Milk
The antimicrobial compounds in breastmilk make it particularly effective for clearing eye infections caused by bacteria. An antibody (known as immunoglobulin A) stops bacterial growth once introduced to the mucus membranes of the eyes.
- Express breastmilk into a sterile container before using an eyedropper to apply a few drops to each affected eye.
For best results, repeat the treatment three times daily for several consecutive days.
Warning: If there is no improvement after several days of treatment, consult with a physician.
- Colloidal Silver
Colloidal silver, is an eye application once commonly used for preventing bacterial eye infection in newborns (now largely replaced by an antibiotic ointment called erythromycin). It is an effective treatment for clearing infection caused by conjunctivitis due to its antibacterial and antiviral properties.
Unlike its counterpart silver nitrate, which is a mixture of nitric acid and silver, colloidal silver is made up of silver particles suspended in water, which makes it less irritating to the eyes.
- Apply one or two drops of colloidal silver to affected eyes.
Repeat the treatment three to four times daily to see results quickly.
- Herbal Tea Poultices
Because of their ability to reduce inflammation and fight bacteria, herbal tea poultices have been used for centuries to treat viral eye infections. The catechins and bioflavonoids present in herbal teas, eliminate the swelling and puffiness that are a side effect of pink eye while also removing secretions from the eyes.
Some herbal teas (and eye washes) that are effective for treating pink eye include:
- Green tea
- Black tea
Here is how to create and use the poultice:
- Add one herbal teabag to a cup of boiled water, allowing it to steep for several minutes (optionally, add salt to increase the astringent effect of the poultice).
- Remove the teabag from the water and allow it to cool until it is comfortably warm.
- Apply the teabag to the affected eye and leave it in place for between fifteen and twenty minutes before removing it.
For best results, repeat this treatment three to four times each day until the infection clears.
Warning: If there is a known allergy to ragweed, avoid using chamomile and calendula for treatment. If pregnant, consult with a doctor before using herbal treatments.
- Barberry plant
The potent antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties in the Barberry plant (also known as the Berberis vulgaris or mountain grape) is effective for getting rid of pink eye.
The bark and stem roots of the plant contain a substance called Berberine (or isoquinolone alkaloid) which clears conjunctivitis quickly when made into an eye wash.
- Boil barberry bark in clean water for several minutes before straining the mixture and allow it to cool completely.
- Rise the affected eyes thoroughly with the barberry water.
- Apply a poultice that contains several drops of the barberry mixture.
Due to its strong astringent content, potatoes help to soothe discomfort and reduce the swollen, puffy eyes associated with allergic conjunctivitis.
- Slice a cold raw potato thinly into several sections.
- Lay down and place one slice over each eye for at least 10 minutes.
- Wash eyes thoroughly with warm water.
For best results, repeat daily for at least a week.
Goldenseal kills bacterial and eliminates infections that cause pink eye. Along with berberine, goldenseal has powerful antimicrobial, astringent and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Add an eighth of a teaspoon of goldenseal, comfrey and chamomile to a cup of boiling water and steep for fifteen minutes.
- Strain the mixture and use an eyedropper to apply the liquid to the affected eyes.
For best results use the eye drops several times a day.
- Probiotics and Milk Yogurt
Probiotics (beneficial bacteria) are effective for killing the harmful bacteria that cause conjunctivitis. Rich sources of probiotics include goat’s milk, raw cow milk, cultured yogurt and kefir.
- Apply several drops of the probiotic liquid to the affected eye(s) several times a day.
Warning: Powdered dairy products rehydrated with water and pasteurized milk do not work for treating pink eye as they do not contain live probiotics.
- Fermented Cod Liver Oil
Fermented cod liver oil is a rich source of vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and essential fatty acids. It is effective for the treatment and prevention of pink eye (and other viral infections such as croup) and is a powerful supplement for maintaining optimal eye health.
- Before going to bed, take one cod live oil capsule daily.
Warning: Always check the labelling and manufacturer information to ensure the authenticity of fermented cod liver oil, which is the only kind that is effective for treating pink eye.
- Salt Water Wash
A salt water (saline) eye wash is an effective and popular remedy for clearing infection caused by conjunctivitis.
Instead of common table salt, use Himalayan pink rock salt or natural sea salt to make the eye wash. Baking soda can also be substituted for salt with the same effect.
- Boil distilled water and add a teaspoon of sea salt or pink rock salt.
- Wait for the mixture to cool before using an eyedropper to add a few drops of the solution to each eye.
- Use a cotton ball to apply the salt water mixture over the eyes.
For best results, repeat the treatment several times a day.
- Warm Or Cold Compress
An effective way to ease discomfort and dissolve the secretions associated with viral and bacterial conjunctivitis is by using a cold or warm compress on the eyes.
Cold compresses soothe and calm the eyes, but depending on the individual, a warm compress may be equally effective.
- Take a clean cloth (ensure it is lint-free) and soak it in a bowl of cold water.
- Wring the excess water out and place the cloth over the eyes for several minutes.
- Soak a clean cloth in warm water and wring out the excess before placing it over the eyes.
- After several minutes, wipe the outside of the eyes to remove any discharge present.
Repeat each treatment several times daily for a few minutes at a time.
Warning: If pink eye is only present in one eye, avoid touching the other eye with the cloth being used for treatment.
- Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar contains potent antibacterial and antiviral properties. Along with destroying infections, microbes and protozoa within the eye, taking apple cider vinegar internally helps to improve healthy gut bacteria to boost the immune system and prevent pink eye from recurring.
- Combine a cup of water with one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar.
- Soak a clean washcloth with the solution and place it over the eyes.
- Use diluted apple cider as a rinse to wash secretions from the eyes.
Warning: ACV may sting or cause eye irritation. Always dilute with water before use and proceed with caution.
- Castor Oil
Castor oil helps to clear pink eye overnight by reducing irritation and eliminating infection. However, it is important to begin treatment as soon as the infection is first noticed.
- Use a dropper to apply a few drops of castor oil to each eye.
- Soak a piece of wool or gauze cloth with castor oil and place it over the eyes.
- Place a warm heating pad over the cloth and leave in place for approximately twenty minutes.
For best results, apply castor oil three times daily.
- Lemon or Lime Juice
The compounds in lemon and lime juice help to clear pink eye infection rapidly.
- Wash and dry the face thoroughly.
- Extract the juice of one lemon or lime.
- Use a dropper to apply a few drops of the juice to the eyes.
Warning: This treatment can cause extreme discomfort and irritation, so use with caution.
- Jasmine Flowers
Along with removing the discoloration of pink eye, jasmine flowers help to ease the discomfort associated with the condition.
- Use distilled water to soak jasmine flowers overnight.
- Remove the flowers from the solution and use an eyedropper to apply a few drops of the remaining water to each eye.
For best results, repeat application often.
- Aloe Vera
The antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial properties of aloe vera make it highly effective for clearing pink eye.
- Scrape the gel from a piece of freshly cut aloe vera.
- Add a few drops of the gel to each eye several times each day.
Warning: Only use natural and freshly cut aloe for this treatment to avoid eye irritation.
- Coconut Oil
The antibacterial, antiviral and anti-pathogenic properties of coconut oil make it an effective treatment for every type of conjunctivitis. Coconut oil should be used externally and internally to fight and prevent the infection.
- Consume one full tablespoon of virgin coconut oil each day (swallow it plain or mix it into drinks and foods).
- Before bed, use an eyedropper to put two drops of (melted) coconut oil into each eye.
- Boric Acid or Borax
When used as an eye wash, the antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties of borax and boric acid work extremely well to get rid of pink eye, while also being highly affordable.
- Combine half a teaspoon of boric acid (or a quarter teaspoon of borax) with one cup of warm filtered water.
- Clean the eyes with a cotton ball soaked in the mixture, letting it also drain into the eyes.
- Antihistamine Herbs
Several herbs contain natural antihistamine properties that provide relief from the symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis and hay fever, which include:
- Stinging nettle
- Reishi mushrooms
- Wild oregano
Available as a tea or supplement, antihistamine herbs are readily available from nutrition stores.
For best results, use these herbs regularly for between four to six weeks.
- Turmeric Powder
Known for clearing pink eye quickly, turmeric is a potent and natural antibiotic.
- Combine a half cup of room temperature water with a teaspoon of turmeric and a pinch of salt.
- Soak a clean washcloth in the solution and place it over the eyes for between twenty and thirty minutes.
Repeat twice daily for best results.
Tips for Pink Eye Relief
- Avoid Contact Lenses
After contracting pink eye, it is best to avoid wearing contacts until eyes clear up completely.
- Consult with a physician to find out if it is safe to wear previously worn contact lenses again.
- Always clean lens cases thoroughly before using them again after treating pink eye, and throw away any remaining cleaning solution.
- Take Vitamin A
Vitamin A is one of the most important nutrients for healthy eyes.
- It fights off infection in the mucus membranes and helps to prevent disorders of the eyes.
- Pink eye can be caused by vitamin A deficiency, although it is extremely rare.
- Foods rich in vitamin A include carrots, potatoes, liver, milk (whole), kale, corn and cheddar cheese.
- Take Zinc
The antiviral properties in the mineral zinc make it effective for fighting pink eye.
- Zinc boosts the body’s absorption of vitamin A while supporting immune system health.
- Rich sources of zinc include fish, pecans, egg yolks, meats, sea food, lima beans and legumes.
- While it is better to get zinc through proper diet, supplementing with zinc lozenges can mean better absorption of the mineral.
- Avoid Irritants
Daily exposure to chemicals and other foreign objects, as well as these substances entering the eyes, can lead to chronic pink eye.
- If there is significant irritation, flush the eyes immediately and visit a physician.
- Common irritants include cosmetics, cigarette smoke, detergents and household cleaning products
- Remove as many known irritants as possible to reduce the chances of developing pink eye.
- Eat Nutritious Food
Good nutrition is essential for healthy eyes, high immunity and to support the body in fighting infections such as pink eye and proper healing.
- Eat foods rich in vitamin C and E such as fruits and green leafy vegetables in order to have optimal eye health.
- While it is best to get nutrients from whole foods, supplementing with a multivitamin is acceptable, if necessary.
If home remedies do not prove effective for clearing pink eye and there is prolonged irritation and redness, consult an ophthalmologist or optometrist about an eye exam and medical options for treatment which include:
- Treatment for bacterial conjunctivitis
Left untreated, most cases of bacterial conjunctivitis get better within two weeks. However, in order to help the condition heal faster, a physician may recommend an ointment or eye drops containing antibiotics. While either treatment will start to clear the infection within a few days, it is important to take the full course of medication to prevent a recurrence.
It is important to treat bacterial conjunctivitis quickly as it can lead to permanent loss of vision due to issues such as corneal ulcers.
Warning: After application of the ointment, there may be slight vision impairment for approximately twenty minutes.
- Treatment for viral conjunctivitis
Viral conjunctivitis typically starts in one eye, infecting the other shortly after.
There is no known treatment for viral conjunctivitis and it usually resolves itself within two weeks of initial infection. However, if the infection is caused by the herpes simplex virus a doctor may recommend taking an antiviral medication.
Until the infection clears, putting a washcloth soaked in cold water over the eyes several times a day provides relief.
- Treatment for allergic conjunctivitis
If allergic conjunctivitis does not clear on its own, a doctor may recommend using one of several OTC products and eye drops, including:
- Antihistamines and mast cell stabilizers, which help to control allergic reactions.
- Anti-inflammatory eye drops and drugs such as steroids and decongestants.
- Preventative medication to take before the start of allergy season to stop the possibility of contracting pink eye.
Warning: Avoid using eye drops designed to treat red eyes as they only work temporarily without providing complete relief.
After successful treatment of pink eye, use the following tips to avoid contracting the virus again in the future.
- Always cover the mouth while sneezing or coughing.
- Do not share contact lenses.
- Use hand sanitizer frequently.
- Clean frequently touched surfaces often with anti-bacterial cleaners.
- Prepare for allergy season by seeing a doctor about preventative measures.
- Follow instructions for contact lens use, and if possible, use daily disposable lenses.
- Remove contact lenses before going into any kind of water (shower, swimming pool, etc.).
- Practice proper hygiene
- Never rub or touch eyes with hands and fingers.
- Wash hands frequently using antibacterial soap.
- Always use clean towels and washcloths to wipe the face (and use them exclusively).
- Change pillowcases frequently.
- Always wear googles while swimming.
- Avoid using eye makeup.
- Never share eye makeup or eye makeup application tools.
- If prescribed antibiotics, take the complete course of medication.
- Change clothes regularly and wash them often.
- Shower before bed every night.