Pink eye (conjunctivitis) is an inflammation or infection of the transparent membrane (conjunctiva) that lines your eyelid and covers the white part of your eyeball. When small blood vessels in the conjunctiva become inflamed, they’re more visible. This is what causes the whites of your eyes to appear reddish or pink.
Pink eye is commonly caused by a bacterial or viral infection, an allergic reaction, or in babies an incompletely opened tear duct.
Though pink eye can be irritating, it rarely affects your vision. Treatments can help ease the discomfort of pink eye. Because pink eye can be contagious, early diagnosis and treatment can help limit its spread.
What Causes Pinkeye?
Several things could be to blame, including:
- Viruses, including the kind that causes the common cold
- Irritants such as shampoos, dirt, smoke, and pool chlorine
- A reaction to eyedrops
- An allergic reaction to things like pollen, dust, or smoke. Or it could be due to a special type of allergy that affects some people who wear contact lenses.
- Fungi, amoebas, and parasites
Conjunctivitis sometimes results from a sexually transmitted disease (STD ). Gonorrhea can bring on a rare but dangerous form of bacterial conjunctivitis. It can lead to vision loss if you don’t treat it. Chlamydia can cause conjunctivitis in adults. If you have chlamydia, gonorrhea, or other bacteria in your body when you give birth, you can pass pinkeye to your baby through your birth canal.
Pinkeye caused by some bacteria and viruses can spread easily from person to person, but it isn’t a serious health risk if diagnosed promptly. If it happens in a newborn baby, though, tell a doctor right away, as it might be an infection that threatens the baby’s vision.
“Pinkeye” isn’t an official medical term. Most eye doctors would probably associate the term pinkeye with mild conjunctivitis caused by bacteria or a virus.
What You Can Do at Home for Pink Eye
If you wear contact lenses, you should stop wearing them while you have pink eye. Use a new pair when you go back to wearing your contacts. Your old contacts are likely infected and could get you sick again if you wear them again.
You should also stop wearing eye makeup while you have an infection. Throw out your old eye makeup and get new makeup once your eyes are healthy.
If one or both of your eyes are red and uncomfortable, it could be allergic pink eye, viral pink eye or bacterial pink eye. Sometimes it’s easy to figure out what kind of pink eye you have and other times only a doctor can tell what’s causing the problem.
Bacterial and Viral Pink Eye Home Remedies
Viral pink eye is like a common cold in the eye. There is no treatment for the virus and usually you just have to let it heal on its own. Viral pink eye should go away within a week or two without treatment.
Bacterial pink eye usually produces more mucus or pus than viral or allergic pink eye. Bacterial pink eye can be treated with antibiotics prescribed by a doctor.
To reduce the symptoms of bacterial or viral pink eye you can:
- Put a warm, damp washcloth over your eyes for a few minutes.
- To make a compress for your eyes, soak a clean washcloth in warm water then wring it out so it’s not dripping.
- Lay the damp cloth over your eyes and leave it in place until it cools.
- You can repeat this several times a day, or as often as is comfortable.
- Use a clean washcloth each time so you don’t spread the infection.
- If you have infectious pink eye in both eyes, use a different washcloth for each eye.
If your eyelids are sticking together, a warm washcloth can loosen the dried mucus so you can open your eyes.
Allergic Pink Eye Home Remedies
If your conjunctivitis is caused by allergies, stopping the source of the allergy is important. Allergic pink eye will continue as long as you’re in contact with whatever is causing it.
Allergic pink eye is not contagious. You can still go to work or school with allergic conjunctivitis and no one else will catch it. To reduce the symptoms of allergic pink eye you can:
- Take allergy medication or use allergy eye drops.
- Put a cool, damp washcloth over your eyes for a few minutes.
- Use over-the-counter lubricating eyedrops (artificial tears).
What Not to Do If You Have Pink Eye
Whatever kind of pink eye you have, don’t use red-reducing eye drops, like Visine. These kinds of eye drops may be very uncomfortable if you have an infection. They also could make your symptoms worse.
Viral and bacterial pink eye can spread very easily – as easily as the common cold. If you have an infection in just one eye, be careful not to spread it to the other eye. And be careful not to spread the infection in public, either.
How to Avoid Spreading Pink Eye
Basic hygiene is enough to keep from spreading the infection to other people or your other eye.
- Change pillowcases and sheets every day.
- Use a fresh towel every day.
- Wash your hands often, especially after you touch your eyes.
- Don’t wear your contact lenses until your eyes are back to normal.
- Don’t share anything that touches your eyes.
Can Breast Milk Relieve Pink Eye?
Blogs and social media posts sometimes recommend putting breast milk into a child’s eye if they have pink eye. There is no science that supports using breast milk for pink eye and it could be more harmful than helpful. Eye infections in young children can be very serious even blinding. Don’t delay seeing a doctor and don’t rely only on folk remedies.
Bloggers who recommend breast milk for pink eye say that substances in breast milk can cure infection and soothe inflammation. But one of the few studies into whether breast milk can fight infections not only found that it didn’t cure the most common causes of pink eye—the milk can introduce new bacteria into the eye.
For the study, milk was gathered from 23 healthy mothers at a San Francisco hospital. The milk was tested for its effect on common causes of pink eye and was also cultured to find any bacteria already in the milk. Breast milk had a small effect on a few kinds of bacteria, but didn’t work nearly as well as antibiotics. And the bacteria that were already in breast milk could cause other serious eye infections.
There is lots of bad advice about pink eye on the internet. Never put anything in your eye that isn’t approved by a doctor. Foods and herbal extracts are not sterile and can make eye conditions much worse.