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HealthInfo Canterbury

Treating conjunctivitis

No matter what is causing your conjunctivitis, you should not wear contact lenses immediately. Wait until you have had no symptoms for 48 hours, and for 24 hours after the last dose of any eye drops or ointment (if you are using them). Throw out any disposable contact lenses you have been wearing and use a new pair. If your lenses aren't disposable make sure you thoroughly clean them.

You can also clean any discharge off your eyelids and lashes. Use something without lots of small fibres to do this, such as a clean facecloth or a makeup wipe.

Infective conjunctivitis

There are a few different ways for treating infective conjunctivitis. You might have no treatment, or use eye baths or medications, depending on how bad your conjunctivitis is.

Not treating

Mild or moderate infective conjunctivitis usually doesn't need any further treatment. Your tears contain chemicals that fight off germs (bacteria and viruses). Infective conjunctivitis often settles by itself within seven to 14 days. Sometimes viral conjunctivitis can last a lot longer and take weeks to completely go away. If your symptoms get worse, see a doctor.

Bathing your eyes

Bathing your eyes with cool clean water may help to soothe any irritation.

Lubricant eye drops

Lubricant eye drops may reduce any discomfort. You can get them over the counter at a pharmacy. You can also get them as a prescription from your GP or optometrist.

Antibiotic eye drops or ointments

If your conjunctivitis doesn't clear by itself, your GP or optometrist might prescribe antibiotics.

Infective conjunctivitis is contagious, which means it can be passed on by touching. The likelihood of passing it on is not high, unless you are in close contact with others. However, until the infection has gone you should take steps to avoid passing it on:

This pamphlet gives more information about who gets conjunctivitis and how to stop it from spreading.

When your child has infective conjunctivitis

The Ministry of Health recommends keeping your child home from school or preschool while there is a discharge from their eye, or until the infection has been treated for more than 24 hours.

Allergic conjunctivitis

There are several things you can do yourself to soothe your eyes and help the inflammation settle:

Seasonal, perennial and animal-related conjunctivitis

If your symptoms are mild you might not need any treatment. You could try lubricant or decongestant eye drops to decrease any discomfort. Ask a pharmacist for advice.

If your symptoms are more severe then you can try mast cell stabiliser eye drops (these stop your body releasing the chemicals that cause an allergic reaction) or antihistamine eye drops. You can take these with antihistamine tablets to reduce the allergic reaction, and can get them on prescription from your GP or optometrist.

Some people find one product works better than another, so if the first one doesn't help try another. If your eyelids are very swollen, it may take several days for the drops to make your symptoms go away. If they are not helping then see your GP or optometrist.

Mechanical or toxic conjunctivitis

Giant papillary conjunctivitis

Contact conjunctivitis

Avoid whatever caused the reaction. If it's caused by shampoo or cosmetics, change the brands you use or switch to non-preserved products.

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Written by Canterbury optometrists. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by clinical director, Ophthalmology, Canterbury DHB. Last reviewed November 2019.


Page reference: 142404

Review key: HICJC-49685