Depending on the cause of conjunctivitis, NYU Langone doctors may recommend medication to treat the condition. Some medications, like artificial tears and antihistamines, can be used for symptom relief and may be purchased over the counter.
Others, like antibiotics or steroids, are prescription medications and may be used for more serious cases of conjunctivitis. Your ophthalmologist takes into account the cause of the conjunctivitis as well as your symptoms when deciding which medication is best for you.
To relieve the dryness associated with viral, bacterial, and allergic conjunctivitis, or conjunctivitis caused by chemical irritation, your doctor may recommend artificial tears, an over-the-counter medication that lubricates the eye. Artificial tears also help eliminate allergens that cause conjunctivitis.
Your doctor may recommend you use drops in both eyes, two to four times a day. If you only have conjunctivitis in one eye, you should not use the same drops in the unaffected eye, or you risk spreading the condition. Your doctor can recommend specific brands, concentrations, and dosing information based on your symptoms.
For bacterial conjunctivitis, your doctor may recommend antibiotics in the form of eyedrops. They are typically used three to four times a day for five to seven days. The dosage depends on your condition and the type of antibiotics your doctor prescribes.
You can usually return to work or resume normal activities after the redness resolves, when you are no longer contagious. Antibiotics are generally well tolerated, but they can sometimes irritate the eye, causing further itching or redness.
This class of medications is beneficial for allergic conjunctivitis. Administered topically twice a day or taken once a day by mouth, antihistamines block the action of histamine, a chemical that is produced when the body detects an allergen, such as pollen, dust, mold, or pet dander. This helps prevent inflammation, itching, and discomfort. Antihistamines are generally well tolerated but may contribute to dry eye.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, also known as NSAIDs, reduce inflammation and redness, as well as itching. They are available as eyedrops, and your doctor may recommend that you use the drops several times a day. When applied, they may cause a burning sensation, but it usually subsides over time.
For severe conjunctivitis, which often results from a chemical injury, doctors may prescribe topical corticosteroids as a short-term treatment. Corticosteroids can reduce inflammation in the eye. Although they are effective, there can be serious side effects, including blurred vision, increased pressure in the eye, and cataracts. Therefore, your doctor may recommend that you use these medications for only a couple of weeks. These medications should only be used when prescribed and monitored by your doctor.
This type of medication, which is available as eyedrops, targets allergic conjunctivitis by preventing the body from releasing histamine during an allergic reaction. Mast-cell stabilizers are intended for preventive use rather than immediate relief and may take up to two weeks to begin working.
They can be effective in people with seasonal allergic conjunctivitis or those who have an allergic reaction to contact lenses. They can be used two to four times a day for many months and are well tolerated, with no significant side effects.
Learn more about our research and professional education opportunities.