Can Pink Eye Go Away On Its Own?

The duration of pink eye is dependent on the type of pink eye you have and it is treated. In most cases, pink eye will clear up between a few days and a few weeks.

There are two different types of pink eye which include viral and bacterial. Viral pink eye is caused by viruses such as adenovirus and herpes virus and typically clears up without treatment in one to two weeks. Bacterial pink eye, however, is caused by an infection such as Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococcus pneumonia. Antibiotics are required for this type of pink eye and the infection should clear up within 24 hours of taking the medication.

Pink eye is typically contagious when you have symptoms which can include red eyes, tearing, and discharge. Symptoms should improve within a few days to a week.

Viral and Bacterial Pink Eye

A virus which causes viral pink eye can spread from your nose to your eyes. You can also catch it when someone sneezes or coughs. Bacteria cause bacterial pink eye and the bacteria spreads to your eyes from your respiratory system or skin. Bacterial pink eye can also spread through the following methods:

  • Touching eye with dirty hands
  • Applying makeup which contains bacteria
  • Sharing personal items which are infected with pink eye

Both viral and bacterial pink eye have similar symptoms which include:

  • Pink or reddish eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Itchy or scratchy sensation
  • Swelling
  • Irritation or burning
  • Discharge from the eye which can result in crusting

The following are key differences between the two types of pink eye


  • Often begins in one eye but may spread to both eyes
  • Begins with a cold or respiratory infection
  • Results in watery discharge from the eye


  • Usually starts with an ear or respiratory infection
  • Can impact one or both eyes
  • Causes a thick discharge or pus in the eyes

Your healthcare provider can help determine which type of infection you have by taking a sample of the discharge and sending it to a lab for testing.

Pink Eye Treatment

Most cases of bacterial and viral pink eye improve without treatment in a few days, but can take up to two weeks. The following methods can be used to help aid in relieving the symptoms:

  • Use lubricating eye drops or artificial tears to improve dryness. Discard the bottle once the infection is gone to prevent the spread of the infection
  • Use cold or warm, moist compresses on the eye to help reduce the swelling
  • Clean your eyes regularly with a clean, damp washcloth or tissue

For severe cases of pink eye, the doctor may prescribe the following medications:

  • Viral pink eye which is caused by the herpes simplex or the varicella-zoster virus may respond to an antiviral medication
  • Antibiotic eye drops or ointment can help expedite the healing process and clear up severe cases of bacterial pink eye

To avoid infecting yourself again once the pink eye clears up, follow the below steps:

  • Discard any eye makeup or applicators used during the infection period
  • Throw away disposable contact lenses and any solution you used
  • Clean and disinfect hard contact lenses, eyeglasses, sunglasses, cases or any other equipment

Pink eye is a common eye infection which is commonly caused by bacteria or a virus. In most cases, pink eye is mild and improves on its own. Severe cases may require an antibiotic or antiviral medication. Be sure to wash your hands and avoid sharing any personal items to help prevent the spread of pink eye when you are infected.

How Do You Know if You Have Pink Eye?