close up of woman with pink eye

How Long Does Pink Eye Last?

Posted by jsavage on May 02, 2023
Written by Staff Writer, Reviewed by Dr. Jonathon Savage, DO, Emergency Physician

Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is a common condition that causes redness, swelling, and discharge in the eyes. The condition occurs when the conjunctiva, the thin layer of tissue that covers the front of the eye, becomes inflamed. It can be caused by viruses, bacteria, allergens, and irritants. And because of this, how long you experience it may vary. In this blog post, we'll explore the different types of causes of irritation and how long it might last. Follow along!

Types of Pink Eye

There are four types: viral, bacterial, allergic, or irritant. Knowing the type will help you determine the best course of treatment. What's more, you'll get a sense of how long the condition is likely to last. Here's what you need to know.

Viral Pink Eye

Viral pink eye (viral conjunctivitis) is caused by a virus and is highly contagious. It can spread through coughing, sneezing, touching contaminated surfaces, sharing towels, or sharing other personal items. This is a common infection that may occur at the same time as having other symptoms of a common cold or upper respiratory infection.

Symptoms include redness, tearing, sensitivity to light, and a watery discharge. 

It takes one to two weeks for a viral infection to resolve; however, it can sometimes take up to three weeks to treat it fully.

Bacterial Pink Eye

Bacterial pink eye is caused by a bacterial infection. The condition is also highly contagious. It can spread through contact with an infected person's tears or other body fluids, as well as through contact with contaminated surfaces. 

Symptoms of bacterial infections include redness, swelling, and a thick, green, or yellow discharge.

These symptoms usually begin to improve within a few days. You may, however, have some lingering effects for up to two weeks. 

Allergic Pink Eye

Allergic or irritant pink eye is caused by an allergic reaction to something in the environment, such as pollen, pet dander, or chemicals. 

Symptoms include redness, itching, and tearing.

These symptoms clear most of the time within a few days of removing the allergen or irritant that was causing the pink eye. 

Irritant Pink Eye

Sometimes things get into the eye that is directly irritating and will cause the eye to get pink or red. These items can range from shampoos to cosmetics, chemicals like pool chlorine, smoke, and contact lenses.

Symptoms of an irritant can be very similar to allergic conjunctivitis, with redness, tearing, burning, and light sensitivity.

This type is not contagious. Most of the time, once the irritant is removed or flushed out of the eye, the symptoms begin to improve. This time frame can be anywhere from a few minutes to a day or two.

How To Improve Each Type of Pink Eye

Viral Pink Eye

There is no specific treatment for viral conjunctivitis. However, you can relieve symptoms by using homemade remedies such as artificial tears and cold packs or warm compresses. You can also opt for over-the-counter pain relievers. 

Bacterial Pink Eye

Bacterial pink eye can be treated with antibiotics. This can be either in the form of eye drops or ointments. Note that you need to complete the full course of treatment, even if symptoms improve before the medication is finished. 

What's more, avoid touching or rubbing your eyes. Also, wash your hands frequently to prevent the spreading of the infection.

Allergic Pink Eye

Flushing the eyes to remove the allergen and avoiding re-exposure should be the first step to treating his type of pink eye. 

You may also be advised to treat it with antihistamines. This can either be in the form of eye drops or oral medications. Allergic or irritant pink eye can also be treated by non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or topical steroids. 

When to See a Doctor

While pink eye often goes away on its own, sometimes you may need to be seen by a doctor. For example, if you experience the following symptoms, you need to contact a doctor as soon as possible.

  • Severe pain in the eye
  • Blurred vision or sensitivity to light
  • Symptoms that last longer than 2 weeks
  • Symptoms that worsen or don't improve with self-care
  • A weakened immune system due to a medical condition or medication use
  • A history of recurrent pink eyes

If you develop eye inflammation while you have signs of an infection from Varicella Zoster Virus, also known as Shingles, you should seek medical attention quickly as this may cause serious issues with your eye, such as blindness.

Telehealth Providers and Pink Eye Treatment

You don't have to experience pink eye longer than you should. And that's why telehealth providers or virtual care providers are here. Telehealth providers offer a convenient and effective way to diagnose and treat your pink eye.

For example, a telehealth provider will evaluate your symptoms and conduct a virtual exam to help you determine the type of pink eye you're experiencing. The provider will even go ahead and offer the best treatment for your case. 

With telehealth, you receive care from the comfort of your own home without the need to travel to a clinic or hospital. This means you get access to a healthcare provider as soon as you start experiencing pink eye symptoms. This also translates to experiencing a short recovery time. 

Another advantage of being seen by telemedicine is that the doctor can help you determine if a more serious condition might be present. If so, they can develop a treatment plan for you or help guide you to the next best and safest step in your care.

Best Practices for Prevention

Preventing pink eye is the best way to avoid the discomfort and inconvenience of the condition. Here are a few tips you can practice to avoid getting pink eyes:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, especially before touching your eyes 
  • Don't share personal items such as towels, washcloths, and makeup with others.
  • Avoid contact with people who have pink eye
  • Minimize touching or rubbing your eyes if you are around someone with pink eyes.
  • Wear protective eyewear when necessary, such as when working with chemicals or using power tools.
  • Do not wear disposable contact lenses longer than they are designed to wear.

How To Improve Pink Eye and Prevent Spreading the Infection to Others

If you have pink eyes, there are several things you can do to improve your condition and prevent the infection from spreading to others. Here are some tips:

Use Warm Compresses

Use a warm compressor on your affected eye several times a day to alleviate symptoms such as swelling and irritation. To make a warm compress, soak a clean washcloth in warm water and wring it out. Then, place the compress over your closed eye for 5-10 minutes. Repeat this process several times a day.

Use Eye Drops or Ointment When Appropriate

Use over-the-counter eye drops or ointment to relieve symptoms such as itching and redness.

You might also be prescribed antibiotic eye drops or other prescription medication to help provide relief. Be sure to follow the instructions on the label and use them as directed.

Wash Your Hands Frequently

To prevent the spread of the infection to others, it is a good idea to wash any germs off of your hands. Wash them briskly for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.

Wash Your Bedding and Clothing

Thoroughly cleaning your bedding and clothing in hot water can help kill any bacteria or viruses that may be on them.

Practice Good Hygiene

Remember to always cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. Also, dispose of tissues properly. What's more, avoid close contact with others until your symptoms have resolved.

Get Help For Your Pink Eye

So how long does pink eye last? Pink eyes can last from a very short time up to three weeks. The condition can be uncomfortable and can cause a lot of inconvenience in your life. However, if you can determine which type of pink eye you're experiencing, you can easily get treatment and relief from the condition quickly. 

The best part of all? You can get the health care treatment you need from the comfort of your home or office. Whether you're dealing with mild irritation or a more severe case of pink eye, our telehealth team can provide you with personalized treatment options designed to address your specific needs. From diagnosis to prescription, we have the tools and resources to help you get back to your normal, healthy self. Schedule some time with us today and let's get you the help you need!

Join Our Newsletter

Subscription Form