Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis) Treatment Options | MyVision.org
Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, often resolves on its own, but it may require treatments specific to the root cause of the pink eye in more serious cases.
For these more serious cases of pink eye, a doctor will need to diagnose what is causing the symptoms. A treatment that is effective in one case, such as for bacterial conjunctivitis, may be useless in another, such as for viral pink eye.
Diagnosing Pink Eye
Like most health conditions, pink eye should be diagnosed by a doctor. However, it will often be relatively obvious when a person has some form of pink eye. The normally white part of an affected eye will generally develop a pink or reddish hue. A deeper red color usually indicates a more severe case of pink eye.
An important part of treating pink eye will be helping your doctor determine the cause of your pink eye, as this will affect what the ideal treatment path looks like. Alert your doctor of all health symptoms you are experiencing even if you don’t think they’re related to your eye.
As part of the diagnosis, a doctor may collect a sample of the discharge your eye is producing and send it to a lab for testing. This is usually only done if your pink eye seems especially severe or if determining the cause of your pink eye is proving difficult with more basic methods.
What Are the Different Types of Treatment Options Available for Pink Eye?
The ideal treatment for pink eye will depend on the severity of the pink eye and its root cause. Here are the primary treatment options:
For less severe cases of pink eye, it may not be necessary to talk with a doctor. However, you should talk to a doctor if your eyes are red, your symptoms seem severe, your symptoms are worsening, or you don’t seem to be recovering.
In many cases, a cold compress and artificial tears, available over the counter without a prescription, can soothe an affected eye as it recovers on its own.
During this time, don’t wear contacts. Wait until you have no symptoms of pink eye or your doctor says it is okay to begin wearing them again.
Treatment for Bacterial Conjunctivitis
Conjunctivitis caused by bacteria will often be mild. It will mostly clear up without treatment and without complications within a week, although some mild symptoms may persist beyond that window.
For more severe cases, a doctor may prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointment to reduce the chances of complications and shorten the recovery window. This also helps reduce the risk of spreading the infection.
Treatment for Viral Conjunctivitis
Viral conjunctivitis usually clears up within two weeks on its own and without any long-term health impacts, although it can last longer in some cases.
A doctor may or may not prescribe a patient antiviral medications depending on the severity of a person’s symptoms. Antibiotics should not be used, as the nature of a virus means these medications will be useless.
Treatment for Allergic Conjunctivitis
When pink eye is caused by allergens, aim to remove those allergens from your environment.
Allergy medication and some eye drops may be used to ease symptoms. These options can be especially useful if you are not able to completely isolate yourself from the allergens causing your pink eye, such as if you live in an area with significant pollen content in the air.
Factors That Impact Treatment Recommendations
A few factors can impact a doctor’s treatment recommendations when it comes to pink eye. One of the most obvious is the cause of the pink eye, as some treatments are completely ineffective against particular pink eye cases.
The severity of symptoms will also impact treatment. Mild pink eye often needs little doctor intervention beyond some basic evidence-based recommendations regardless of the cause.
A patient’s age and health can also factor into treatment. Newborns and people with weak immune systems are treated with more care when it comes to pink eye, as these individuals are at higher risk of serious complications. Likewise, a person’s medical history needs to be accounted for, including making sure an individual hasn’t had a bad reaction to any treatment in the past.
The Importance of Seeking Medical Help to Diagnose & Recommend Treatment
Most cases of pink eye aren’t particularly serious and will resolve on their own, but there are some situations where it is important to talk to a doctor. Again, a newborn or person with a compromised immune system, such as people with HIV, should always be taken to a doctor if they develop any pink eye symptoms due to their higher risk of significant, long-lasting complications.
You should also seek medical help if you experience pain in the eye, if you have sensitivity to light or blurry vision that doesn’t improve when discharge is wiped from the affected eye, if you have an intense red hue to your eye, or if your symptoms worsen or don’t seem to be improving.
A good rule with any health issue is that you should talk to a doctor if it isn’t clear whether your particular case is serious or not. It is better to talk with a doctor when it may not have been necessary, getting an expert opinion and evidence-based recommendations, rather than not talking to a doctor when you should have.
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Conjunctivitis: A Systematic Review. (July–September 2020). Journal of Ophthalmic & Vision Research.
Evidence-Based Treatment of Acute Infective Conjunctivitis. (November 2009). Canadian Family Physician.
A Review of the Differential Diagnosis of Acute Infectious Conjunctivitis: Implications for Treatment and Management. (March 2020). Clinical Ophthalmology.