A mother taking care of her young boy with conjunctivitis

What is Conjunctivitis?

Often called "pink eye" or "red eye," conjunctivitis is a painful and/or itchy redness of the whites of one's eyes. It is most commonly due to an allergic reaction or an infection (usually bacterial, but sometimes viral). This is different from bleeding into the white part of one eye, called a "subconjunctival hemorrhage," which leaves part of one eye bright red, but causes no discomfort or vision change. Though it looks nasty, this goes away on its own and is not dangerous. It is more common in diabetes and high blood pressure (so check for these if it happens), but most often happens in healthy people.

Causes and Diagnosis of Conjunctivitis

Potential Causes of Conjunctivitis

  • Acute Allergies

    Itching is the dominant symptom. It is more likely to affect both eyes, and the discharge/watering from the eyes is usually clear. It may hit suddenly, or be mild and ongoing.

  • Viral Infection

    Though there may be some itchiness, the pain, mild redness (more pink) and watering are more prominent. It may start in one eye, but easily can spread to the other (so be careful not to touch the unaffected eye). The discharge is usually clear and watery. It may take three weeks to resolve and may occur along with a respiratory infection or cold.

  • Bacterial Infection

    This is associated with a puss-like yellow-green mucus discharge along with pain.

  • Toxic Exposure

    From an acute chemical exposure (usually obvious and should be immediately treated).

  • Irritation of the Eye

    Falling asleep with your contact lenses in or having inadequate tears to support the use of contact lenses.

Diagnosing Conjunctivitis

Though the viral and allergic conjunctivitis tend to be benign and resolve on their own, it is best to see an eye doctor to rule out bacterial conjunctivitis or more dangerous viral infections of the cornea. Seeing an eye doctor is especially important if you have yellow discharge or severe pain or light sensitivity in the eye, or the pupil (black part of the eye) is irregularly shaped instead of round.


Recommended Supplements

For long-term allergic conjunctivitis, treating allergies with the supplement MSM 3,000+ milligrams (mg) a day and/or a special acupressure technique called NAET (see can be helpful. But these take longer to work.

Other Therapies & Advice

Cool compresses

Once the eye doctor has ruled out and treated more worrisome causes, treatment is for symptom relief. Cool compresses or rinses can help itching and warm compresses help pain. If only one eye is involved, be sure to tilt your head to the side so the affected eye is lower than the healthy eye. Otherwise, if water flows from the infected eye to the other eye, it may also get infected.


Antihistamines can also help with itching. Benadryl (the over-the-counter medication diphenhydramine), which is sedating, is best at night so you can sleep. A nonsedating antihistamine is best during the day (e.g., Claritin or Zyrtec).

Eye drops with vitamin A

For contact lens and dry eye induced conjunctivitis, using special eye drops containing vitamin A can be very helpful over time.

More Information Online

NAET (acupressure technique for treating food allergies at

Viva Eye Drops (eye drops containing vitamin A at


Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, MD

Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D. is a board certified internist and author of the popular free iPhone application “Cures A-Z,” which was ranked in the top 10 of all health/wellness downloads on iTunes.

Dr. Teitelbaum is the author of the perennial bestseller From Fatigued to Fantastic! (Avery Penguin), which has sold over half a million copies; Pain Free 1-2-3 (McGraw-Hill); Three Steps to Happiness: Healing Through Joy (Deva Press); the Beat Sugar Addiction Now! series (Fair Winds Press);  Real Cause, Real Cure (Rodale Press); The Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Solution (Penguin/Avery); and his latest, The Complete Guide to Beating Sugar Addiction (Fair Winds Press, 2015).

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