Pink eye treatment varies depending on the type of conjunctivitis. Eye drops, ointments or oral medications can all be used depending on the cause.
Allergens like pollen, dust, pet dander and other environmental triggers can cause allergic conjunctivitis—a non-contagious form of pink eye that causes watery eyes, itching and burning. Your medical provider may prescribe one or a combination of medications to combat your symptoms.
The most common medications for allergic conjunctivitis include:
- Topical antihistamines work by blocking the action of histamine, which is responsible for triggering the body’s allergic response. Examples include bepotastine (Bepreve), emedastine (Emadine) and epinastine (Elestat).
- Topical mast cell inhibitors prevent mast cells from releasing histamine, thus reducing inflammation and irritation. Examples include lodoxamide (Alomide), nedocromil (Alocril) and pemirolast (Alamast).
- Topical corticosteroids help reduce swelling, redness and itchiness. Examples include loteprednol etabonate (Alrex, Lotemax), dexamethasone (Maxidex) and prednisolone (Pred Forte). Typically, these corticosteroids are only used in more severe cases.
- Oral antihistamines combat inflammation and itchiness, including eye irritation. Examples include fexofenadine (Allegra), loratadine (Claritin), desloratadine (Clarinex), cetirizine (Zyrtec) and levocetirizine (Xyzal).
Home remedies for relief from allergic conjunctivitis include:
- Applying a cold compress
- Using artificial tears to help flush out allergens
- Avoiding the affecting allergen, if possible
- Using OTC and/or prescription medications as directed by a medical professional
Infectious conjunctivitis refers to pink eye caused by a virus or bacteria—both can pass easily from person to person. However, treatment of infectious conjunctivitis doesn’t always require medication.
For bacterial conjunctivitis, your doctor may prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointment to kill the infection-causing bacteria. Antibiotic eye drops that may be prescribed include:
- Polymyxin b/trimethoprim (Brand name: Polytrim)
- Ciprofloxacin (Brand name: Ciloxan)
- Ofloxacin (Brand name: Ocuflox)
- Levofloxacin (Brand names: Iquix, Quixin)
- Moxifloxacin (Brand names: Moxeza, Vigamox)
- Gatifloxacin (Brand name: Zymaxis)
- Azithromycin (Brand name: AzaSite)
Antibiotic ointments that may be prescribed for bacterial conjunctivitis include:
- Bacitracin (Brand name: Baciguent)
- Erythromycin (Brand name: Ilotycin)
- Ciprofloxacin (Brand name: Ciloxan)
Antibiotics, though, won’t help viral pink eye because the infection is caused by a virus. “Pink eye often occurs in tandem with an upper respiratory infection and often will get better without any treatment once the respiratory condition improves,” says Robert Gold, M.D., president of the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus and senior partner of Eye Physicians of Central Florida in Orlando.
The infection has to run its course, but your doctor may suggest lubricating eye drops or ointment to soothe irritation and make you more comfortable. “Over-the-counter artificial tears can make the eyes feel more comfortable,” explains Dr. Gold.
Antibiotic eye drops do not work to cure viral conjunctivitis. But “if there is evidence of a bacterial infection often associated with yellow or green discharge (drainage),” explains Dr. Gold, “antibiotic eye drops may be prescribed by your primary care doctor, ophthalmologist or optometrist.”
The following home remedies may help relieve symptoms of viral or bacterial pink eye:
- Apply a warm compress
- Each time you wipe your face and eyes, use a fresh cloth or towel
- Avoid touching your face and eyes
- Practice good hand hygiene
- Discard and replace any eye makeup you were using before treatment
Chemical conjunctivitis is an eye inflammation due to exposure to a chemical irritant such as chlorine or smoke. Treatment for chemical conjunctivitis typically involves flushing the eyes and using lubricating eye drops to soothe the discomfort.
“Chemical injury to the ocular surface requires immediate attention by an eye doctor,” says Saleha Munir, O.D., an optometrist at the University of Maryland Medical Center and clinical assistant professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
According to Dr. Munir, those who present with chemical conjunctivitis should:
- Flush eyes or put them under running water for at least 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the type of chemical.
- Once washed, seek care with an eye doctor immediately for a prompt assessment and further treatment.
Antibiotic drops may be prescribed for chemical conjunctivitis when there’s a risk for “super-infection,” explains Dr. Munir, which is a secondary infection caused by bacteria.