Conjunctivitis, better known as ‘pinkeye’, is a relatively common condition that can affect both children and adults. It is typically caused by either a viral or bacterial infection, and symptoms may include eye redness, eyelid swelling, mild pain, sensitivity to light, and yellow or gray eye discharge. Treatment will vary depending on the pinkeye cause, and viral infections typically clear up on their own within about a week. However, it can often be difficult to tell whether you’re experiencing a viral or bacterial infection, and leaving a bacterial infection untreated can lead to serious complications. For this reason, it’s important that you make an appointment with your eye doctor if either you or your child has pinkeye symptoms.
Treatment for Bacterial Conjunctivitis Infections
Bacterial pinkeye is highly contagious and can be spread through contact with another infected person or a contaminated surface. If left untreated, this type of infection can spread and cause serious eye damage. To prevent this from happening, your doctor or optometrist will likely prescribe antibiotic eye drops. Quinoline antibiotics, such as Besivance, Zymaxid, and Vigamox are commonly prescribed and should eliminate a bacterial infection within one to two weeks.
Treatment for Viral Conjunctivitis Infections
Viral pinkeye is also highly contagious and can be spread through sneezing or coughing, or can develop along with other upper respiratory infections, including the common cold. Unlike bacterial pinkeye, viral pinkeye cannot easily be cured with a course of prescription eye drops. Fortunately, this type of pinkeye typically goes away on its own within 7 to 10 days.
Although you cannot cure a viral pinkeye infection with medication, you can treat the symptoms in order to make yourself more comfortable while you recover. Placing a cold wash cloth over the affected eye is a common home remedy to help relieve swelling and pain. If you use this treatment, you should use a clean wash cloth for each application and avoid sharing the cloth with anyone else.
In severe cases of viral conjunctivitis, your doctor might prescribe a topical steroid to help reduce swelling. However, a steroid medication isn’t recommended for the first line of treatment, as it may actually prolong the infection.
Your eye doctor might also prescribe povidone-iodine 0.8% solution, which can reduce the contagiousness of an adenoviral infection (the most common type of viral pinkeye infection). However, as with the other treatments described above, it will not actually cure the infection. The symptoms of your infection should start getting better on their own within about 5 days, and in the meantime, you should wash your hands regularly and use other preventive measures to keep from spreading your infection to others. If you wear contact lenses, leave them out until the infection has run its course. For more information about eye care and conditions, view our Eye Conditions Page.