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What is conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis is inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin membrane that lines the eyelid and covers the white part of the eye.

 It is a common condition that normally affects both eyes. It is also known as red or pink eye

Conjunctivitis is caused by a viral or bacterial infection or an allergy

Conjunctivitis caused by an infection is contagious which means it can spread from one person to another. Conjunctivitis caused by an allergy is not contagious. 

If you have conjunctivitis your eyes may: 

  • be red or pink 
  • be itchy
  • be swollen
  • burn
  • feel gritty
  • water a lot
  • produce discharge that sticks to your eyelashes

How do you get conjunctivitis?

There are 3 different types of conjunctivitis: 

  • Viral conjunctivitis —is the most common type of conjunctivitis. It can be caused by many different viruses and often occurs with the common cold, flu, or other respiratory infections. Viral conjunctivitis is highly contagious and is spread through coughing and sneezing or touching your eyes with your fingers or contaminated objects. It normally causes a watery discharge from both eyes. 
  • Bacterial conjunctivitis —is caused by staphylococcal or streptococcal bacteria. It is spread by direct contact with someone who has bacterial conjunctivitis or by touching your eyes with unclean fingers or contaminated objects. Bacterial conjunctivitis normally causes a thick, sticky discharge from the eyes. 
  • Allergic conjunctivitis —is an allergic reaction to a substance such as pollen, dust, or mould. It normally affects both eyes and causes red, itchy, watery eyes and swollen puffy eyelids. Symptoms may be seasonal, meaning they occur at certain times of the year, or year-round. Allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious. 

Contact lenses

If you wear contact lenses, you have a higher risk of developing conjunctivitis. 

To reduce your risk

  • wash your hands thoroughly before and after using your contact lenses
  • rub your lenses gently as you clean them to remove the build-up of protein and bacteria 
  • always use the correct store-bought solution to rinse your lenses
  • replace your contact lens case at least 3 times a year
  • never sleep in your contact lenses
  • give your eyes a break from your lenses from time to time
  • never use your lenses for longer than the manufacturer’s recommendations
  • if you develop symptoms of conjunctivitis, stop using your contact lenses and make an appointment with your GP or eye doctor

How to get rid of conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis can normally be treated at home and usually clears up on its own in around 2 weeks. 

Some things you can do at home to help ease symptoms of conjunctivitis include:

  • use cooled boiled water and cotton pads to gently clean your eyes (use a separate cotton pad for each eye). 
  • apply a cold flannel to your eyes a few times a day to help with pain and swelling
  • stop wearing contact lenses or eye makeup until your eyes are better. Throw away your old eye makeup to prevent reinfection once your eyes have healed.
  • If you have pain, take over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen or paracetamol 
  • If your eyes are dry, use over-the-counter lubricating eye drops ( artificial tears)


Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are very contagious and can easily be passed to other people. 

Conjunctivitis prevention

To prevent the spread of conjunctivitis: 

  • change your bed linen, face cloths, and towels daily and launder on a hot wash
  • wash your hands frequently with warm, soapy water
  • avoid touching or rubbing your eyes
  • don’t share anything that touches your eyes such as makeup, pillows, facecloths, eyedrops, or towels
  • cover your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing, wash your hands and put used tissues in the bin

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your GP if: 

  • your baby shows signs of conjunctivitis —if your baby is under 28 days old, go to A&E or make an urgent GP appointment
  • you wear contact lenses and have signs of conjunctivitis and spots on your eyelids —this could be an allergic reaction to your contact lenses
  • you still have symptoms of conjunctivitis after 2 weeks
  • you have a weakened immune system due to a medical condition like HIV or cancer treatment

Call your doctor or 111 immediately if you experience: 

  • pain or severe redness in one or both eyes
  • sensitivity to light or blurred vision
  • changes to your vision like flashes or wavy lines

GP treatment for conjunctivitis

For bacterial conjunctivitis, your GP may prescribe antibiotics, normally in the form of eye drops or ointments. 

If your conjunctivitis is caused by an allergy, symptoms normally stop when the allergy trigger is removed. If this is not possible, your doctor may prescribe medications such as antihistamines or eye drops.

Get help from an online doctor

An online doctor can diagnose conjunctivitis by asking about your symptoms and examining your eyes via video link. They can advise you on how to treat your symptoms at home and prescribe a suitable medication if necessary. 

Making an online video appointment is quick and easy at Medicspot. Simply click the link, choose a time and day that suits you, and have your consultation via video link from your phone wherever you are. 

Get help from a pharmacist

Your pharmacist can help with conjunctivitis by giving you advice about treating your conjunctivitis at home and recommending over-the-counter treatments like antihistamines, painkillers, and eye drops. Your pharmacist can also advise you on when to see a GP. 

Find a Pharmacy Near You


Conjunctivitis is a common eye complaint that can be caused by an infection or allergy. You can usually treat conjunctivitis at home, but in some cases, you may need medication prescribed by a doctor. Some types of conjunctivitis are highly contagious, and precautions should be taken to prevent spreading the infection to other people. If you have symptoms of conjunctivitis and would like to talk to a doctor, make an appointment today


NHS: Conjunctivitis February 22nd 2021 (Accessed November 13th 2022) 

American Academy of Ophthalmology:  Conjunctivitis: What is Pink Eye?  April 18th 2022 (Accessed November 13th 2022)

Community Eye Health Journal: Conjunctivitis March 1st 2005 (Accessed November 13th 2022)

 The Pharmaceutical Journal: Bacterial conjunctivitis: diagnosis and management June 3rd 2021 (Accessed November 13th 2022)

 PubMed: Conjunctivitis June 2014 (Accessed November 13th 2022)

 American Academy of Ophthalmology: Quick Home Remedies for Pink Eye September 17th 2021  (Accessed November 13th 2022)

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