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

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

If you’re not sure it’s conjunctivitis

Find out about other conditions that can cause red eyes

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.

Find a pharmacy

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

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

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

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 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: 22-04-2024
Next review due:22-04-2027

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