December 9, 2022

Antibiotics for Pink Eyes: When to Use Them

Your eye is swollen and red, indicating a case of conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink eye. the clear conjunctiva which covers the sclera (the white part of the eye) is inflamed. The blood vessels are swollen, which makes the eye pink.

You don’t know exactly what to do about it. Is it something you can rely on to get rid of itself? In a word, generally. However, treatment is sometimes used to help resolve pink eye.

This article will highlight when it’s important to seek help for pink eye, the role of antibiotic pink eye drops, how other treatments can help, and how long it can take to get rid of it. pink eye.

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When to Seek Medical Help for Pink Eye

Although it’s often not necessary to get medical help with pink eye, there are times when it’s important to seek treatment. Here’s what to watch out for:

  • eye pain
  • Blurry vision even after clearing mucus
  • Light sensitivity
  • A night flight
  • No improvement or worsening of symptoms without treatment
  • Worsening of bacterial pink eye despite at least one day of antibiotic use
  • A weakened immune system that may have difficulty fighting infection
  • If a newborn has the condition

Antibiotics for pink eyes

If you have pink eye caused by a bacterial pathogen, your healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointment. These antibiotics can help speed recovery. Your immune system can often fight off pink eye within a week to 10 days. But with the help of topical antibiotics, bacterial conjunctivitis often clears up in just two or three days.

Other treatments for pink eyes

In most cases, your natural defenses will work to clear your pink eye infection. However, you can also take other steps to help soothe your eyes and promote healing. Steps to consider include:

  • Frequent hand washing and avoiding touching your eyes
  • Apply a damp washcloth to closed eyelids to help get rid of the scab
  • Using over-the-counter (OTC) drops such as artificial tears to lubricate the eyes, antihistamine medications to combat itching, and vasoconstrictor drops that constrict blood vessels to combat short-term redness
  • Stay away from using contact lenses while suffering from pink eye (using contact lenses can irritate the eyes and also interfere with any medications or other drops applied and keep them from the surface of the eye)

How long does pink eye last?

Although the good news is that in most cases pink eye goes away on its own, you’re probably wondering how long it can take. If you have mild bacterial conjunctivitis, it will likely start to go away without treatment within about two to five days. Still, it can take up to two weeks for it to completely dissipate.

Meanwhile, if you have a mild case of viral conjunctivitis, it will take a week or two to clear up in most cases. But for some, it can take up to two or even three weeks.

Antibiotics will do nothing to help with viral conjunctivitis. But if you have a more serious virus such as the herpes simplex virus or the varicella zoster virus that causes the virus, your health care provider may prescribe an antiviral medication to help fight them.


Often with pink eye, it’s just a matter of letting the condition take its course. But if you experience significant pain, notice worsening symptoms, or have a weakened immune system, it’s important that you contact an eye doctor or your primary health care provider.

If it is a bacterial infection, you may be prescribed a topical antibiotic drop or ointment. If you have viral pink eye, antibiotics won’t help. But for some viruses, a specific antiviral drug will speed recovery.

Even without treatment, bacterial infections will begin to clear up in just a few days, and mild viral infections will take a week or two to clear up.

A word from Verywell

Most time, there is no need for antibiotic treatment for pink eye (even bacterial pink eye). In some cases, this can help speed up recovery. If bacterial pink eye persists longer than expected, there are options. Talk to a healthcare professional to find out if antibiotics can help you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the best antibiotic for pink eye?

    It may depend somewhat on the bacteria causing the infection. In the most serious cases, especially if a Pseudomonas is the cause, your healthcare provider will likely prescribe a fluoroquinolone drop such as Moxeza (moxifloxacin), Iquix (levofloxacin), or Ciloxan (ciprofloxacin). Your healthcare provider will decide which is best for you.

  • Can you take oral antibiotics for pink eye?

    Not usually. Most bacterial infections respond to topical antibiotic drops or ointments. But your health care provider can give you an oral prescription for infections such as gonorrhea or chlamydia.

  • How do you know if pink eye is bacterial or viral?

    An eye doctor or other healthcare provider can tell if you have a bacterial or viral case of pink eye by examining the eye and asking relevant questions.

    If you’ve recently had a cold or respiratory infection and you have a watery rather than a thick discharge from your eye, it’s probably viral conjunctivitis. But pink eye is detected right after an ear infection, along with thick mucus; it is usually bacterial.