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Conjunctivitis: Self-Care and Causes

By Anna MacGabhann
Reviewed by Beck Jinnette
Beck Jinnette

Reviewed by

Beck Jinnette
Beck has over 17 years of experience in eye care, holding her Certificate IV in Dispensing in Australia.
Pink eye is the common name for conjunctivitis, an eye infection. Learn about its causes and treatments in this article.
Conjunctivitis self-care

What is pink eye or conjunctivitis?

Itchy eyes, watery discharge or pinkness in the eyes? You might just have conjunctivitis. Commonly known as ‘pink eye’ because of the characteristic colour that appears in the eye, conjunctivitis is the inflammation of the thin, clear covering of the white part of the eye and the inside of the eyelids (conjunctiva).

But don’t fret. It’s a very common infection and easily treated. Read on to find out more about this common infection – and how to avoid catching it in the first place.

Different types of conjunctivitis

There are three types of conjunctivitis; bacterial, viral and allergic. Before we look at the differences between these three, let’s look at the similarities. All three generally develop when you have a weakened immune system, such as a cold (virus) or a sore throat (virus or bacteria). All three are highly contagious. 

Finally, although it is helpful to read guides like these to try and identify which type you may have before seeing an eye doctor, it is vital not to self-diagnose and very important that you seek medical help on the first symptoms of pink eye.


The chlorine in swimming pools can irritate the eyes and lead to conjunctivitis.

Bacterial conjunctivitis

Bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria that spreads to your eyes from your respiratory system or your skin. You can also catch it if you rub your eyes when your hands aren’t clean, use eye makeup (mascara) that has been contaminated or share other things that your eyes touch (like a towel) with someone with conjunctivitis.  Contact lenses can also be a vector for carrying conjunctiva mucous. Best practice is to always use new (daily lenses) or clean lenses (reusable) and washed hands to insert them. Whether you have contracted bacterial conjunctivitis or not, you should throw out any contact lenses after use. In the case of pink eye, take a break from contacts until it clears up completely. Once your eyes are back to full health, it’s safe to use contacts again, but be sure to use a new, fresh pair.

Viral pink eye

Conversely, viral pink eye is caused by viruses like the herpes simplex virus. You can catch it when someone who is infected sneezes or coughs near you and the droplets come into contact with your eyes.

Allergic conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis happens when your eyes come into contact with pollen and become red, itchy, and watery. It is an eye inflammation caused by an allergic reaction and is normally a short-term condition in comparison to the former two.

How conjuntivitis is contracted
How conjuntivitis is contracted

Conjunctivitis self-care treatments

Conjunctivitis is easy to treat and most cases usually clear up by themselves in 1-2 weeks. You can use medically prescribed antibiotics and eye drops to help clear up a bacterial infection quicker than waiting for it to heal itself.

To help ease discomfort while the infection clears, you can also use lubricating eye drops to prevent your eyes from getting too dry, put cold ice packs against your eyes to soothe swelling and clean the discharge from your eyes with a wet cloth or tissue.

It is important to note that these home care recommendations aren’t a replacement for medical treatment. They are extra tips to help ease discomfort during your healing journey but should not be used instead of a doctor’s recommendation or prescribed medication.

Bacterial conjunctivitis home care

Bacterial conjunctivitis, also known as bacterial pink eye, is a highly contagious condition that affects the membrane lining the outer surface of the eye. 

While antibiotic eye drops are the most effective treatment option, there are a few home remedies that can also provide additional relief. For example, normal over-the-counter drops can help with itching and provide temporary relief. Look for “lubricating” drops or “artificial tears”.

Other remedies include the use of warm compresses to reduce inflammation, keeping the affected eye clean and avoiding shared items such as towels or pillows. However, please note that home remedies should not be relied upon solely and that medical attention should be sought if symptoms persist or worsen

Viral pink eye home care

Viral pink eye, also known as viral conjunctivitis, can be a bothersome and highly contagious condition. While antibiotic treatment is the best course of action for healing the virus, some home remedies can relieve symptoms and aid this healing process along with medication.

For instance, placing a cool compress over your affected eye for 10-15 minutes can help reduce inflammation and ease discomfort. 

Another effective remedy is applying aloe vera gel, which is known for its soothing and anti-inflammatory properties. Additionally, of course, keeping your hands clean and avoiding touching your eyes can help prevent the spread of the infection.

Allergic pink eye home care

Allergic pinkeye, also known as allergic conjunctivitis, is a condition caused by an allergic reaction such as hay fever, resulting in the inflammation of the conjunctiva. Symptoms include redness, itching and watery eyes.

In addition to any medical care you receive, there are home remedies that can help control the allergic reaction and alleviate symptoms. Some of these remedies include using a cold compress with a fresh cotton ball and clean water, avoiding allergens and rinsing the eyes with saline solution regularly.

It is always best to visit a doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan, but these remedies can provide some relief in the meantime.

How to treat Allergic conjunctivitis
How to treat Allergic conjunctivitis

When to seek medical care

If you’re experiencing any symptoms of pink eye, such as redness, itching and green or white discharge from the eye, it’s important to seek medical care. A medical professional can diagnose pink eye and recommend the appropriate treatment, whether it be prescription eye drops, medication or ointments. It’s especially important to seek medical care if you wear contact lenses, as pink eye can cause significant complications and may even lead to vision loss if left untreated. Don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider if you suspect you have pink eye.

How to avoid reinfection

Once your pink eye has cleared up, it’s important to avoid reinfecting yourself. Make sure you throw out any eye makeup or applicators you used when you had conjunctivitis and get rid of disposable contact lenses and solutions if you used them during your infection. 

Thoroughly disinfect hard contact lenses, eyeglasses and your lens cases – all three can harbour bacteria. You can read more about how to properly clean these items in our helpful guides available at our Optical Centre.

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