Maybe your toddler woke up with an eye crusted shut, or maybe you received a school notice that pink eye is going around. Because conjunctivitis can quickly spread as fast as lightening, it’s not a bad idea to stock your house with the right ingredients to make the best home remedies for pink eye.

But let’s start from the very beginning. In this post, we’ll cover:

  • How pink eye is transmitted
  • Pink eye symptoms
  • Plus, all-natural home remedies for pink eye

What Is Pink Eye?

Conjunctivitis is an eye condition in which the conjunctiva (the clear lining that covers the white part of your eye) is inflamed. The inflammation usually causes the eye to appear pink, which is how conjunctivitis earned its nickname: pink eye.

What Causes Pink Eye?

Pink eye can be caused by allergies, bacteria, or viruses. (More on that below!)

But regardless of what causes the infection, an eye infected by pink eye is red, super itchy, and also plagued by white or yellow discharge.

What does viral pink eye look like?

(source)

Viral pink eye is very watery (the eye generally looks glassy) and usually spreads from one eye to the other through contact. The above image clearly shows how red and inflamed the conjunctiva can get. (source)

What does bacterial pink eye look like?

The above image depicts bacterial pink eye, a type of conjunctivitis characteristic of oozing and crusted pus. (source) If you wake up with your eye “stuck” shut, you may suspect bacterial pink eye is the culprit. (source)

What does allergic pink eye look like?

The above image depicts allergic conjunctivitis. (source) Allergic pink eye does not have the thick mucus that a bacterial infection has. Instead, the eye is super inflamed and itchy. 

Signs of Pink Eye

Wondering if you have pink eye or if your eyes are just bloodshot from not getting enough sleep? Sleep-induced bloodshot eyes typically don’t have any other symptoms other than red eyes.

If you have pink eye, you’ll probably also experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Your eye is red and/or uncomfortable
  • Your eye is producing yellow or white pus or mucus
  • It’s hard to open your eye due to excessive crust
  • You’re in pain or having trouble seeing due to watery discharge and mucus
  • You eyes is sensitive to light
  • Your eye is itchy
  • You just had an infection and/or still have signs of infection (i.e. fever)

Note: Pink eye can affect just one eye or it can affect both eyes at the same time.

If It’s Not Pink Eye, What Else Could It Be?

Not all red, swollen, irritated, or crusty eyes are due to pink eye. According to WebMD, the following conditions may cause similar symptoms:

  • Seasonal allergies
  • Excessively dry eyes
  • A sty
  • Iritis (an inflamed iris)
  • Chalazion (an inflamed gland along the eyelid)
  • Blepharitis (inflamed or infected skin along the eyelid)

If you suspect your symptoms may be a result of something other than pink eye, contact your healthcare provider. They can do an eye exam to rule out other conditions.

Conventional Treatment for Pink Eye

If you do have pink eye, treatment depends on the cause of your conjunctivitis.

For bacterial pink eye:

Bacterial pink eye is caused by a bacteria like streptococcus pneumonia or staphylococcus aureus. Your doctor can prescribe drops, or ointments, like bacitracin, erythromycin, or moxifloxacin, for bacterial pink eye. (source)

In most cases, though, you don’t need antibiotic eye drops unless the pink eye is caused by chlamydia or gonorrhea (which is rare, especially in children). (source)

For viral pink eye:

Since conjunctivitis is usually viral, antibiotics won’t help, and may even cause harm by reducing their effectiveness in the future or causing a medication reaction (i.e. allergic reaction to antibiotics). In fact, studies show that viral pink eye is the most common type of pink eye and often does not require medical treatment. (source)

For allergic pink eye:

Up to 40 percent of pink eye cases are caused by seasonal and indoor allergies like pollen, dust mites, and mold spores.

However, most people do not seek medical treatment for allergic pink eye. (This is likely due to the fact that many people self-treat allergies rather than seek medical treatment for seasonal/indoor allergies.) The best course of action here is to address the allergens that cause the pink eye.

Home Remedies for Pink Eye

When you first suspect that you have pink eye, there are two things you should do before trying any home remedies for pink eye.

  • Stop wearing contacts. If they are disposables, toss them and wear your glasses until your eyes are better. If you do not have disposable lenses, clean your contacts thoroughly, according to the directions provided by your eye doctor.
  • Stop wearing eye makeup. Throw away anything that came in contact with your eyes, and buy new makeup when you’re better.

Next, try one of more of these home remedies for pink eye to reduce symptoms of bacterial and viral pink eye and ease discomfort.

Apply a cool compress

Cool temperatures soothe itchiness and discomfort.

  1. Soak a soft cloth in cool water (just a few degrees under lukewarm, so aim for 80-90 degree F)
  2. Wring it out
  3. Press gently on the eyelid.

Note: Always use a clean cloth each time you wipe your eyes to prevent re-infection, and if you’re wiping your child’s eyes, be sure to wash your hands afterward.

Apply a warm compress

Alternatively, you can use warm compresses (around 90-98 degrees F) to loosen any crusted eyelashes, but once the mucus loosens, don’t overdo the warm compresses—it can worsen symptoms.

And, remember, always use a clean cloth each time you wipe your eyes to prevent re-infection. If you’re wiping your child’s eyes, be sure to wash your hands afterward.

Use breast milk

Squirt what in your eye?! Yep, breast milk has been used for centuries to help squash infections, and mamas today still swear by it. While some studies found that breast milk added more bacteria to the eye (source), it’s important to note that anecdotal advice for this is more than abundant. Why? Breast milk helps to reduce inflammation. (source)

How to use breast milk as a home remedy for pink eye:

  1. Hand-express or pump some milk into a clean container.
  2. Using a clean eye-dropper, administer a few drops into your eyes.
  3. Apply every few hours.

Make honey eye drops

Manuka honey has been used for millennia to treat eye conditions. That’s right: millennia. In the 300s Aristotle himself wrote that “pale honey” was a good remedy for “sore eyes and wounds.” Studies support his hypothesis, too: honey is proven to fend off bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) and Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). (source)

To make Manuka honey eye drops, you need:

  • Manuka honey
  • Clean water
  • An eye dropper
  • A clean jar

Directions:

  1. Boil 1/2 cup of filtered water, and let it cool.
  2. Pour into a clean jar.
  3. Mix in 1/2 teaspoon of Manuka honey.
  4. Using the clean eye dropper, administer a few drops every few hours. Be careful not to let the dropper touch your eye, otherwise you risk re-introducing bacteria.

Use colloidal silver drops

Colloidal silver, which is silver particles suspended in water, has been used since the Roman and Greek times for treating infections. In fact, colloidal silver was used to treat infections from ancient times even up to the 1940s (when Penicillin was invented). A 2011 study confirms that colloidal silver is effective in treating fungal, bacterial, and viral infections. (source)

To use colloidal silver as eye drops:

Take probiotics

Probiotics are a good way to support your body during an infection, but probiotics may have an extra helpful role to play when it comes to pink eye. A study published in Fraefes Archives of Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology found that probiotic drops in the eyes helped reduce symptoms of pink eye. (source) Granted, it took two weeks for the participants to see a resolve, so if you go this route, you may want to use this method in conjunction with other home remedies for pink eye.

Alternatively, you can take oral probiotics and support your body from within.

Try neem oil

Neem oil is the oil extracted from the medicinal plant Azadirachta indica. Studies show that neem oil is antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and even antimalarial. (source)

To use neem oil as one of your home remedies for pink eye:

  1. Apply a thin layer of neem oil on your eyelids.
  2. Do this right before bed, as the oil might make it temporarily difficult to see.

Make saline washes

Saline washes are helpful for cleaning your eyes and removing some of the built-up pus and mucus.

To make a sterile saline wash, you need:

  • 1 teaspoon of non-iodized table salt
  • 8 ounces of filtered water
  • A pot
  • A sterilized (boiled) mason jar
  • An eye dropper

Directions:

  1. Bring water to a boil.
  2. Add salt to boiling water.
  3. Once the salt dissolves, remove from heat and let it cool.
  4. Use a clean eyedropper to drop this solution into your eyes once or twice per day.
  5. Store unused saline wash in a clean mason jar with a lid.

Use tea bag compresses

Green tea is a well-known source of antioxidants, but green tea can also be used to reduce the symptoms of pink eye. In fact, thanks to the catechins in green tea, this tea has demonstrated antibacterial properties. (source)

To make a green tea bag compress:

  1. Boil 8 ounces of water.
  2. Pour the water over two organic green tea bags.
  3. Let the tea bags cool completely.
  4. Lay one tea bag over each eye until their coolness dissipates and the tea bags starts to warm up from your body heat, about 10 minutes.

*To make the most out of each tea bag, you can also soak a cloth in the tea and apply that cloth to your eyes.

Try a holy basil compress

Holy basil, also called Ocimum sanctum, has proven antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. (source)

To make a holy basil compress:

  1. Boil 8 ounces of water.
  2. Steep 1-2 tablespoons of organic holy basil leaves in the water for 10 minutes and let cool.
  3. Soak a clean cloth in the tea and apply to your eyes for about 10 minutes once or twice per day.

Apply aloe vera

Aloe vera, that skin-soothing plant we all know and love, also has antibacterial properties, according to a 2018 study. Even better news: aloe vera gel is safe around the eyes. (source)

If you suspect you have pink eye, take a few drops of aloe vera gel and wipe it around your eyes and on your eyelids two to three times per day.

Try turmeric

Turmeric, the star spice in Golden Milk, is known for its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. In fact, a 2017 study revealed that curcumin, a component in turmeric, is effective in reducing symptoms of eye diseases like pink eye. (source)

To use turmeric as one of your home remedies for pink eye, boil 1 teaspoon of the spice in 8 ounces of water and apply the cooled liquid with cotton pads. Alternatively, you can use tea.

To make a turmeric tea:

  1. Boil water.
  2. Pour over two organic turmeric tea bags.
  3. Let cool.
  4. Apply the tea bags to your eyes.
  5. Use the remaining tea liquid and soak clean cotton pads in the tea, and apply to your eyes for about 10 minutes once or twice per day.

Note: Turmeric stains, so be cautious with any drips.

How Long Does Pink Eye Last?

If you wake up with an eyelid crusted shut, you bet your first question is how long will this last?! There is good news though! With these home remedies for pink eye:

  • Bacterial pink eye can disappear within as little as 24 hours
  • Viral pink eye, on the other hand, has to run its course, and can last for 7-10 days

In the meantime, try as many of these home remedies for pink eye as need be. Even though a virus must run its course, you can still find relief from your symptoms.

Is Pink Eye Contagious?

Very! In fact, pink eye is one of the most common reasons for school absences.

According to the National Eye Institute, pink eye is the most common eye condition with over three million cases each year. Wow!

How to Prevent Pink Eye

To reduce your risk of becoming one of those three million pink eye cases, follow these tips:

  • Wash hands often, and encourage your children to do so as well
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose, and mouth; if you do, be sure to wash your hands after
  • Wash towels and pillows often with hot water (130F or higher)
  • Don’t share anything that touches your eyes, including makeup
  • Always wash your hands before and after inserting contact lenses
  • Use goggles when swimming and try to avoid letting water in your eyes (easier said than done)

How Long Is Pink Eye Contagious?

  • Bacterial pink eye is contagious for about 24 hours
  • Viral pink eye is contagious for 10-12 days! (source)

Check your child’s school policy for returning to school after a case of pink eye. Many schools require the child to be free from pink eye for 24 hours before returning. This may seem like a long time, but use this opportunity to love on your child and play games and bond.

When to Call the Doctor

Although most cases of pink eye are treatable at home, you may want to check in with your doctor if:

  • The suspected pink eye occurs on your newborn
  • You or your child have other signs of infections that are getting worse
  • You tried the above home remedies for pink eye, but symptoms persist

How About You?

Have you ever had pink eye? Which home remedies for pink eye worked for you? (And which ones didn’t?)