How to Treat Viral Conjunctivitis


Viral conjunctivitis causes the conjunctiva, the tissue lining the inside of the eye, to become inflamed. Viral conjunctivitis is commonly called pinkeye, due to the red or pink appearance of the whites of the eyes. The virus is caused by the same virus that causes the common cold and is very contagious. Antibiotic treatment is not effective in treating viral conjunctivitis, but there are several measures you can take to relieve the discomfort of the condition.

Things You'll Need

  • Washcloth
  • Pain medication
  • Artificial tears
  • Cotton balls

Apply warm or cool compresses to the eyes to relieve discomfort, based on which temperature is more soothing to the eyes. Run warm or cool water over a washcloth, wring it out and place over the eyes for 10 to 15 minutes several times during the day.

Take over-the-counter pain medication, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, to reduce pain caused by viral conjunctivitis. Follow manufacturer recommendations for dosages and consult your doctor before giving medication to very young children.

Use artificial tears to keep the eyes moist. Increased moisture can help relieve some of the symptoms of pinkeye, such as itching, burning or a gritty sensation in the eyes. Artificial tears are available without a prescription at drug stores.

Remove crusts of dried discharge with warm water applied to cotton balls. Crusts are most likely to form during the night when the eyes are closed. A thick layer of crust can "glue" the eyelashes together, making it difficult to open the eyes. Run the wet cotton balls over the eyes several times until the crust has been dislodged and the eyes can be easily opened. Resist the urge to force open your eyes, as this can cause painful eyelash loss.

Talk to your doctor about prescription steroidal eye drops if discomfort from the condition is severe. While using the drops won’t shorten the duration of conjunctivitis, the medication can help reduce pain.

Tips & Warnings

  • Wear glasses while you have viral conjunctivitis if you are a contact lens wearer. Wearing contact lenses while you have conjunctivitis can irritate the eyes.
  • Throw out disposable contact lenses, eye makeup and contact lens solutions to avoid reinfection that can occur if these items have been contaminated. Thoroughly clean extended wear contact lenses and disinfect contact lens cases.
  • Avoid spreading conjunctivitis to other people by washing your hands often and using clean towels, pillows, sheets and washcloths every day. Make sure that no one else uses your towel and washcloth and avoid sharing cups or utensils with other people. According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), viral conjunctivitis can be easily spread in schools and home.

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