ConjunctivitisOverview

Conjunctivitis is an eye condition caused by infection or allergies. It usually gets better in a couple of weeks without treatment.

Check if you have conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis is also known as red or pink eye.

It usually affects both eyes and makes them:

  • bloodshot
  • burn or feel gritty
  • produce pus that sticks to lashes
  • itch
  • water

If you're not sure it's conjunctivitis

Other conditions can cause red eyes.

How to treat conjunctivitis yourself

There are things you can do to help ease your symptoms.

Use clean cotton wool (one piece for each eye). Boil water and then let it cool down before you:

  • gently rub your eye lashes to clean off crusts
  • hold a cold flannel on your eyes for a few minutes to cool them down

Stop infectious conjunctivitis from spreading

Do

  • wash hands regularly with warm soapy water
  • wash pillows and face cloths in hot water and detergent

Don't

  • do not wear contact lenses until your eyes are better
  • do not share towels and pillows
  • do not rub your eyes

Staying away from work or school

You don't need to avoid work or school unless you or your child are feeling very unwell.

A pharmacist can help with conjunctivitis

Speak to a pharmacist about conjunctivitis. They can give you advice and suggest eye drops or antihistamines to help with your symptoms.

See a GP if:

  • your baby has red eyes – get an urgent appointment if your baby is less than 28 days old
  • you wear contact lenses and have conjunctivitis symptoms as well as spots on your eyelids – you might be allergic to the lenses
  • your symptoms haven't cleared up after 2 weeks

See a GP urgently or go to A&E if you have:

  • pain in your eyes
  • sensitivity to light (photophobia)
  • changes in your vision, like wavy lines or flashing
  • intense redness in one eye or both eyes

These can be signs of a more serious eye problem.

Treatment from a GP

Treatment will depend on the cause of your conjunctivitis.

If it's a bacterial infection you might be prescribed antibiotics. But these won't work if it's caused by a virus (viral conjunctivitis) or an allergy.

Some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can cause conjunctivitis. This type takes longer to clear up.

Page last reviewed: 08/01/2018
Next review due: 08/01/2021