How is pink eye (conjunctivitis) treated?

Bacteria

Pink eye (conjunctivitis) caused by bacteria is treated with antibiotics, a type of medicine prescribed by your doctor. The antibiotic can be given as eye drops, ointments, or pills.

It may be difficult to apply ointments in a child's eye. If the ointment gets as far as the eyelashes, it will most likely melt and enter the eye. Pills may need to be taken for several days.

The infection should improve within a week. Take the medicine as instructed by your doctor, even if the symptoms go away.

Virus

Medicine cannot treat pink eye caused by a virus. This type of pink eye often results from a common cold. Just as a cold must run its course, so must this form of pink eye, which will last from four to seven days. You can help relieve symptoms by applying a cold compress and using artificial tears as recommended by your doctor.

Irritating substance

If your eyes are irritated after a substance gets into your eyes, you should use warm water for five minutes to flush the irritating substance from the eye. You should also avoid further exposure to the irritating substances. Your eyes should begin to improve within four hours after washing away the substance. If they do not, call your doctor. If the substance in your eyes is a strong acid or alkaline chemical (such as drain cleaner), you should flush your eyes with water and call your doctor immediately.

Allergies

Allergy-associated pink eye should be checked out by your ophthalmologist and possibly an allergist. It may disappear completely when the allergy is treated with antihistamines or when the allergen is removed. You can relieve symptoms temporarily by applying a cold compress on closed eyes.

Other causes of pink eye

Less commonly, bacteria that causes sexually transmitted infections can cause pink eye. If you have reason to believe you were exposed to a sexually transmitted infection, tell your doctor.

Newborn babies rarely develop pink eye. Redness of the eyes or any cloudy discharge from the eyes of a baby should be reported immediately to your doctor.

Autoimmune conditions — diseases in which your own immune system overreacts — are also a rare cause of pink eye. If you have a positive family history or other reason to suspect an autoimmune disease, discuss this with your doctor.

Please note that eyes can become re-infected. Call your doctor if symptoms return or if vision decreases after being treated.

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