Conjunctivitis usually makes your eyes red, itchy and uncomfortable.

Conjunctivitis usually gets better on its own. Washing your eyelids with clean water can help. You may need antibiotics if it's caused by bacteria.

To avoid spreading conjunctivitis, avoid rubbing your eyes, wash your hands regularly and avoid sharing towels and pillows.

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

Conjunctivitis 1
Conjunctivitis that produces sticky pus is contagious.

Conjunctivitis 2
If eyes are red and feel gritty, the conjunctivitis is also usually contagious.


Conjunctivitis 3
Conjunctivitis caused by allergies like hay fever makes eyes red and watery but is not contagious.

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.


  • 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

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.

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: 22-02-2021
Next review due:22-02-2024

NHS Logo