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Conjunctivitis

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
A sticky eye producing pus
Conjunctivitis that produces sticky pus is contagious.
A red and gritty eye caused by conjunctivitis
If eyes are red and feel gritty, the conjunctivitis is also usually contagious.
A red and gritty eye caused by conjunctivitis on dark 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 your symptoms.

  • Boil water and let it cool down before you gently wipe your eyelashes to clean off crusts with a clean cotton wool pad (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.

Stop infectious conjunctivitis from spreading

Do

  • 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

Don’t

  • 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.

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, you'll need a prescription from a GP.

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

  • your baby has red eyes – get an urgent appointment if your baby is less than 28 days old
  • you wear contact lenses and have conjunctivitis symptoms as well as spots on your eyelids – you might be allergic to the lenses
  • your symptoms have not cleared up after 2 weeks
Information:

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: how to contact a GP

It's still important to get help from a GP if you need it. To contact your GP surgery:

  • visit their website
  • use the NHS App
  • call them

Find out about using the NHS during COVID-19

Urgent advice: Get advice from 111 now 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 28 days old with red eyes

These can be signs of a more serious eye problem.

111 will tell you what to do. They can arrange a phone call from a nurse or doctor if you need one.

Go to 111.nhs.uk or call 111.

Other ways to get help

Get an urgent GP appointment

A GP may be able to help you.

Ask your GP practice for an urgent appointment.

Treatment from a GP

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: 22 February 2021
Next review due: 22 February 2024