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Conjunctivitis is an eye condition caused by infection or allergies. It usually gets better in a couple of weeks without treatment.

Check if you have conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis is also known as red or pink eye.

It usually affects both eyes and makes them:

  • red
  • burn or feel gritty
  • produce pus that sticks to lashes
  • itch
  • water
An eye with sticky yellow pus on the eyelashes.
Conjunctivitis that produces sticky pus is contagious.
An eye that's red, caused by conjunctivitis
If eyes are red and feel gritty, the conjunctivitis is also usually contagious.
An eye that's red, caused by conjunctivitis. Shown on brown skin.
A red and watery eye caused by conjunctivitis
Conjunctivitis caused by allergies, like hay fever, makes eyes red and watery but is not contagious.

If you're not sure it's conjunctivitis

Find out about other conditions that can cause red eyes

How to treat conjunctivitis yourself

There are things you can do to help ease the symptoms of conjunctivitis.

  • Wash your eyelids with clean water. Boil the water and let it cool down, then gently wipe your eyelashes with a clean cotton wool pad to clean off crusts (1 piece for each eye).
  • Hold a cold flannel on your eyes for a few minutes to cool them down.

Do not wear contact lenses until your eyes are better.

A pharmacist can help with conjunctivitis

Speak to a pharmacist about conjunctivitis. They can give you advice and suggest eyedrops or antihistamines to help with your symptoms.

If you need treatment for a child under 2 years old, you'll need a prescription from a GP.

Stop infectious conjunctivitis from spreading

There are things you can do to stop conjunctivitis spreading to other people.


  • wash your hands regularly with warm soapy water

  • wash your pillow cases and face cloths in hot water and detergent

  • cover your mouth and nose when sneezing and put used tissues in the bin


  • do not share towels and pillows

  • do not rub your eyes

Staying away from work or school

You do not need to stay away from work or school unless you or your child are feeling very unwell.

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

  • your baby has red, sticky eyes – get an urgent appointment if your baby is less than 30 days old
  • you wear contact lenses and have conjunctivitis symptoms as well as spots on your eyelids – you might be allergic to the lenses
  • you have conjunctivitis and your symptoms have not cleared up within 7 days

Urgent advice: Ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111 if you have:

  • pain in your eyes
  • sensitivity to light
  • changes in your vision, like wavy lines or flashing
  • very red eyes (1 eye or both eyes)
  • a baby less than 30 days old with red, sticky eyes

These can be signs of a more serious eye problem.

You can call 111 or get help from 111 online. Call 111 if you need help for a child under 5.

Treatment for conjunctivitis

Treatment will depend on the cause of your conjunctivitis.

If it's a bacterial infection, you might be prescribed antibiotics. But these will not work if it's caused by a virus (viral conjunctivitis) or an allergy.

Some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can cause conjunctivitis. This type takes longer to get better.

Page last reviewed: 23 April 2024
Next review due: 23 April 2027