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Home > Stay Well > Self care > Conjunctivitis (also known as red or pink eye)

Conjunctivitis (also known as red or pink eye)

Conjunctivitis is a common condition that causes redness and inflammation of the thin layer of tissue which covers the front of the eye (the conjunctiva). It can be caused by allergies or an infection and normally affects one eye at first, but can affect both eyes after a few hours.

Other symptoms of conjunctivitis include:

  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • A sticky coating on the eyelashes especially noticeable in the mornings
  • A burning or gritty feeling in the eyes
sticky pus image

Conjunctivitis that produces sticky pus is contagious.

red and feel gritty

If eyes are red and feel gritty, the conjunctivitis is also usually contagious.

red eys and watery

Conjunctivitis caused by allergies like hay fever makes eyes red and watery but is not contagious.

Photos courtesy of NHS Choices

How do I treat?

Treatment with medications isn’t usually needed for conjunctivitis because the symptoms often clear up within a couple of weeks.

There are several ways you can manage conjunctivitis at home. The advice below should help ease your symptoms:

  • Clean – gently clean away sticky discharge from your eyelid and lashes using a cotton wool pad soaked in boiled water that has been allowed to cool to a lukewarm temperature. Always use a new clean pad for each eye.
  • Soothe – hold a cold wet face cloth on your closed eyes for a few minutes to provide cooling relief
  • Use lubricant eye drops – these are available over the counter at pharmacies; they may help ease any soreness and stickiness in your eyes; always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.


  • Wash your hands regularly with warm soapy water especially after touching your eyes to stop spreading the infection to others
  • Wash your pillowcases and face clothes in hot water and detergent
  • Cover your mouth and nose when sneezing and put used tissues in the bin

Do Not

  • Rub your eyes
  • Share towels or pillows
  • Wear contact lenses until all symptoms of infection have gone
  • Reuse old contact lenses, solutions, or cases after an infection

You do not need to avoid work or school unless you or your child are feeling unwell.

When should I seek advice?

It’s very important to go back to your GP if you still have symptoms after two weeks. You should also contact your GP immediately if you experience any of the following:

  • Your baby is less than 28 days old and has red eyes
  • Eye pain
  • Sensitivity to light (photophobia)
  • Changes in your vision, such as wavy lines or flashing
  • Loss of vision
  • Intense redness in one eye or both eyes

Where can I get more information?

  • NHS Choices –
  • Your local community pharmacy
Last Updated: Wednesday 26th April 2023 - 2:01:pm

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