Conjunctivitis is an eye condition caused by infection or allergies. It usually gets better in a couple of weeks without treatment.

Check if you have conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis is also known as red or pink eye.

It usually affects both eyes and makes them:

  • bloodshot
  • burn or feel gritty
  • produce pus that sticks to lashes
  • itch
  • water

There are three kinds of conjunctivitis, bacterial, viral and allergic

Bacterial Conjunctivitis is an infection of the eye in which one or both eyes become red, watery and sticky.  The condition is not normally serious and in most cases clears up without treatment.  It is contagious so care needs to be taken to prevent passing it on to others, e.g. by not sharing towels. See below for further advice.

How to treat bacterial conjunctivitis yourself

There are things you can do to help ease your symptoms.

Use clean cotton wool (1 piece for each eye). Boil water and then let it cool down before you:

  • gently rub your eyelashes to clean off crusts
  • hold a cold flannel on your eyes for a few minutes to cool them down

If you wear contact lenses do not wear them and consult your usual optician for advice

Viral conjunctivitis causes red watery eyes,  There is usually some discomfort described as a  burning or gritty feeling.  It usually starts in on eye then affects the second.  It is highly contagious so care needs to be taken to prevent passing it on to others, e.g. by not sharing towels.  See below for further advice.  It is not normally serious and usually clears up by itself without treatment.  Antibiotics are ineffective.  Cool compresses and lubricating drops will help with the symptoms.

Allergic conjunctivitis is an allergice reaction of the eyes which causes a sudden swelling and redness of the eyes associated with itching. This is often caused by hayfever or an allergy to animals and usually clears up without the need for treatment.  It is not contagious.   Cool compresses and lubricants should help with symptoms and you should try not to rub your eyes as this will make it worse.  If you know what has caused the allergic reaction you should try and limit exposure in the future.

Stop infectious conjunctivitis from spreading


  • wash hands regularly with warm soapy water
  • wash pillows 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

If you think you have allergy related conjunctivitis there are drops available to help alleviate symptoms, try not to rub your eyes as this makes the itching worse.

Staying away from work or school

You don't need to avoid work or school unless you or your child are feeling very unwell.

A pharmacist can help with conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis (bacterial) is one of the conditions covered by the Common Ailments Scheme which is an NHS service that patients can access for free advice and free treatment and is available from 99% of pharmacies in Wales. 
Find out more information on the service.

Search for a pharmacy near you offering the service. 


An Optometrist/optician can also look at your eyes if you have conjunctivitis symptoms, especially if they don’t clear up with the self care advice as above within a few days. In Wales this is likely to be an appointment free on the NHS

Find an optician here

If you are a contact lens wearer and you have conjunctivitis symptoms please do not wear your lenses and immediately contact your usual Optometrist/opticians for advice

Please see a GP if your baby has red eyes – get an urgent appointment if your baby is less than 28 days old

Get advice from NHS 111 Wales or Call 111 now if you have:

  • pain in your eyes
  • sensitivity to light
  • changes in your vision, like wavy lines or flashing
  • intense redness in one eye or both eyes
  • a baby less than 28 days old with red eyes

These can be signs of a more serious problem.

NHS 111 Wales will tell you what to do. They can arrange a phone call from a nurse or doctor if you need one, but they are likely to suggest that you visit your local optometrist/optician or in some cases your local A and E department.


Treatment will depend on the cause of your conjunctivitis.

Conjunctivitis caused by a bacterial infection is normally what is termed self-limiting, this means that with lid cleaning advice as above it will clear up on its own within a few days. If this does not happen you may require antibiotics. Your optician is likely to be able to advise you on this. Some opticians may be able to prescribe this medication for you on the NHS, or direct you to your GP to get this prescription. 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 clear up.

The information on this page has been adapted by NHS Wales from original content supplied by NHS UK NHS website
Last Updated: 21/12/2022 14:50:56