Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson

Changing our approach to pinkeye

5/2/2019 by Kristine Penza, APRN, CNP


You wake up with a scratchy, red eye and goopy drainage, should you:

  1. Go to Mayo Clinic Express Care? 
  2. Submit an eVisit through Express Care Online?
  3. Call your primary care team? 
  4. Try home cares? 

Your best option may be to try home cares. Most cases of pinkeye (conjunctivitis) are caused by a virus; antibiotic drops or ointments won't do anything to help alleviate the symptoms or make you less contagious. Both viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are typically self-limiting, meaning the illness will resolve on its own. Antibiotic drops have been shown to decrease the length of symptoms caused by bacterial conjunctivitis by eight hours. 

Eye symptoms may occur alone, but with viral conjunctivitis you may also experience a runny nose, sore throat, cough or fever. But if you're having any of the following symptoms, you should be evaluated:

  • Any eye pain that is more than mild
  • Blurry vision that doesn't clear with wiping away discharge
  • Vision loss
  • Warm, red swelling that extends beyond the eyelid
  • Worsening symptoms after three days with no associated cold symptoms

Certain groups of patients also should be seen, including infants less than 6 months, immunocompromised patients, contact lens wearers experiencing any eye pain, and anyone with recent trauma or surgery to or around the eye. 

Home cares for conjunctivitis include:

  • Warm, moist compresses to the eye(s)
  • Lubricating eye drops, such as artificial tears
  • For allergy-like symptoms, antihistamines such as loratadine may provide relief

Symptoms of viral conjunctivitis can last up to two weeks, but the worst typically are earlier in the course of the illness. Regardless of the cause of your pinkeye, remember to discard any contaminated eye make-up. It's safe to return to work or school if the drainage is controllable, and you follow good hand hygiene. 

Kristine Penza, APRN, CNP, is a family nurse practitioner at Mayo Clinic Express Care.