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Conjunctivitis Causes & Symptoms — Optometrist Verified (4 At-Home Pink Eye Treatments)

What is Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis)?

Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, is an inflammation or infection that impacts the transparent membrane that lines your eyelid and eyeball. Frequent symptoms are redness, itching, swelling, watering in the affected eye, a gritty feeling in your eye, and crusts on the eyelids from eye discharge during the night. Often it will spread from the initially infected eye, to the other eye. There are multiple causes, all of which are highly contagious and is spread through close contact with others.

If you have pink eye, it’s important to avoid spreading it to those around you, which may include staying home while you experience symptoms. Our optometrists have provided all the details you need to know, how it’s caused, when it’s safe to go to work or school, and how to best treat it

How Do You Get Conjunctivitis?

There are two types of conjunctivitis, bacterial and viral. Viral is like most viruses in that it is spread through contact, such as hand-to-eye contact, or contaminated objects (pink eye discharge, fecal matter, or other infected discharge) coming into contact with your eyes.


On average, people touch their face around 23 times per hour.


Over the last 18 months, COVID has taught us that increased sanitation and hand washing can help prevent the spread of infection. The same is true for pink eye. It is spread when someone comes into direct, or indirect, contact with the infected fluid from pink eye. It can be spread through any of the following;

  • Unwashed hands, after coming in contact with an infected person
  • Sneezing, coughing
  • Close physical proximity to an infected person
  • Sharing objects that came into contact with eyes (contact lenses, glasses, towels, bedding, makeup, false eyelashes, or face products)

Similar to COVID, if you shake hands with someone who has pink eye and then touch your face prior to sanitizing your hands, you could contract conjunctivitis.

What Is the Most Common Cause of Conjunctivitis?

Viruses are the most common cause of pink eye. Coronaviruses, such as the common cold or COVID-19 are among the viruses that can cause pink eye.

What Does the Start of Conjunctivitis Feel Like?

Initially you will feel irritation in one eye or both, including redness or itchiness. It is also known as pink eye as it enlarges the tiny blood vessels in the white part of your eyes, causing them to turn red or pink in colour. 

Beyond the common symptoms of redness, pink eye can cause any of the following in one or both eyes:

Conjunctivitis Graphic
  • Watery eyes
  • Itching, burning, or gritty sensation in the eyes
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Discharge: white, yellow, green or watery 
  • Crust build up on your eyelashes (which may prevent your eyes from easily opening in the morning)
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Unfortunately, you can experience these symptoms in addition to symptoms of a cold, the flu, and other viruses including COVID-19.

Pink eye shouldn’t impact your sight, if it does, be sure to immediately seek medical attention.

How Do I Know if I Have Bacterial or Viral Conjunctivitis?

The difference between the two types can be determined by the type of eye discharge. With bacterial, it is typically a sticky green or yellow eye discharge. In comparison, viral typically causes a watery eye discharge.

How Do You Get Rid of Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye) Fast?

If you’re having bacterial pink eye symptoms, the fastest way to treat them is to see your eye doctor. Your eye doctor can provide the best treatment options based on the severity of your symptoms, while also taking into account your personal health history (such as compromised immune systems and allergies to medications). 


What Is the Best Treatment for Conjunctivitis?

Fortunately, pink eye doesn’t always require medical treatment but it is still recommended to speak with your eye doctor when you develop symptoms. Here are our treatment tips:

At-Home Pink Eye Treatment

  1. Cold Compress. Start by applying a cold compress, or an ice pack wrapped in a clean hand towel, to the affected eye to help reduce inflammation and provide relief. When wiping away eye discharge, use a warm washcloth and ensure other household members don’t use it afterwards.
  2. Artificial tears, or Eye Drops. Note, there are many different types of both over-the-counter and prescription eye drops so it is best to ask your eye doctor for recommendations. Steroid eye drops can be extremely effective but there is the potential for side effects so it is important to disclose your health history to your optometrist. The chance of side effects with steroid eye drops are lower with short-term use, and pink eye is a short-term infection. However, long term use of steroid eye drops can increase the risk of developing cataracts and glaucoma. This is why it is vital to book an appointment with your eye doctor to review the best treatment for you.
  3. Wear Glasses. If you usually wear contact lenses, switch to glasses or disposable lenses to avoid having to take special care disinfecting reusable contact lenses.
  4. Cosmetic Cleanse. Get rid of cosmetics that might have been in contact with your eyes recently. This can include accessories like false eyelashes,  

 Medical Treatments

Medical treatment for pink eye depends on how it was contracted, bacterial vs viral. If it is bacterial, then antibiotic eye drops may be prescribed; however, if you have viral pink eye, then antibiotics won’t help. See your eye doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Eye pain
  • Light sensitivity (photophobia)
  • Decreased vision
  • Blurred, or double vision
  • Eye redness worsens
  • Symptoms lasting beyond 7 days
  • Compromised or weakened immune system (either from an existing condition or if you are inflected with other viruses such as the flu, a cold, or COVID)

Seek medical treatment right away if you have a newborn with symptoms.

How Long Is Conjunctivitis Contagious For?

Pink eye normally stays contagious for as long as you, or your child, has eye discharge or tearing. Usually the symptoms improve within three to seven days. Symptoms usually peak between 3 to 5 days after you are exposed, and symptoms will clear up after 7 to 14 days.

Should I Stay Home With Pink Eye?

It is not mandatory to stay home, particularly if you are taking the necessary precautions to not spread it, including vigilant hand sanitization. However, if you are experiencing severe symptoms, you may need to stay home from school and work until your symptoms lessen. You are contagious for as long as you’re experiencing watery eyes and discharge. As pink eye typically lasts three to seven days, this could mean staying at home for several days. 

If your work requires close contact with colleagues or customers, you should stay home. Spreading pink eye is particularly easy if you touch shared equipment like cash registers, computers, phones, headsets, printers, or other items that are required to do your job. 

For children, it is recommended to contact their daycare or school to notify them. They may have policies in place to avoid outbreaks, or request your child stay at home if other viruses are in-play, such as COVID. It can be especially difficult for younger children to remember hand sanitization protocols, and maintain recommended physical distancing, so their school may request they stay home until their symptoms go away.

Of course, if you are not sure, always check with your eye doctor to find out when it’s safe to go back.

Why Real Eyes Optometry is the Best Pediatric Optometrist

Real Eyes Optometry has been voted Top 3 Pediatric Optometrist 3 years in a row!

We are a family-run, full scope optometry office that strives to provide the highest level of service. With over 30 years of experience, we continue to add the latest technology so that patients can come to us for all their eye care needs. Dr. Shaun Pati provides a comprehensive evaluation that includes your child’s refractive status, binocular vision system, and ocular health – all while keeping a smile on their face. His calm and comforting manner makes him great with kids, and the parents of his pediatric patients can attest to that. He is currently accepting families and patients of all ages, including kids!

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