Diagnosis and treatment

Infective conjunctivitis

What are the treatment options for infective conjunctivitis?

  • no treatment – most infections clear up on their own within a few days to a few weeks.
  • antibiotic eye drops or ointment – viral infections do not respond to antibiotics and the infection may last for two to three weeks before your natural immunity is able to build up enough to clear the virus. Antibiotic drops or ointment may be helpful in conjunctivitis caused by bacteria.
  • lubricant eye drops, gel or ointment – these may help reduce discomfort and grittiness, but will not reduce the duration of the illness.
  • simple painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen tablets (provided you have no medical reason which prevents you from using non-steroidal painkillers), are available over the counter at a chemist or on prescription and can ease the discomfort and flu like symptoms.
  • regular lid cleaning– you can clean sticky discharge or secretions from your eyes with a clean flannel soaked in warm water.
  • steroid eye drops are occasionally used in severe cases.

What is the infection risk to others?

Viral conjunctivitis is contagious and spreads very easily through water droplets (coughs and sneezes) or contact with tissues, flannels, towels, pillowcases etc. Frequent handwashing and proper disposal of used tissues is important in preventing the spread of the condition to other family members or work colleagues. 

Are there any complications?

Occasionally, viral conjunctivitis can cause inflammation on the cornea, the front window of the eye, or scarring of the conjunctiva, which can affect the sight, however this usually responds well to treatment.

Allergic conjunctivitis

What are the treatments for allergic conjunctivitis?

  • Avoid rubbing your eyes – it will make the symptoms worse.
  • Cold compress – this may help reduce eyelid swelling.
  • Lubricant eye drops or ointment – these may help reduce discomfort but will not stop the allergy process.
  • Anti-allergy eye drops – see table below. Most anti-allergy drops are available over the counter at a chemist. Anti-allergy drops need to be used every day and may take up to two weeks to work. Some people need drops for only a few weeks in the summer, some throughout spring and summer, and others need them all year round.
  • Antihistamine tablets – see table below. Provided you have no medical reason which prevents you from using antihistamine tablets, these can be taken every day. They are available over the counter at a chemist. Always read the patient information leaflet provided by the manufacturer before taking any medication. Speak to a pharmacist or GP for further advice if you are uncertain.
  • Steroid eye drops are used in severe cases - If all the above treatments are being used and there are still symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis, ask your GP to request an appointment with your local ophthalmology service. Steroid eye drops require a prescription, if they are needed.

Advice for contact lens wearers

Contact lenses should not be worn during any type of conjunctivitis.

How to put in eye drops

video transcript

Before putting in your eyedrops, first check that the drops are still in date.

If you were using a new bottle of eyedrops also check that the seal is not broken make sure you're putting the correct drops into the correct eye.

Let the correct time to instill your drops. Place a clean tissue on a flat surface wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water invert the bottle two or three times to ensure the contents are evenly mixed together.

Remove the lid and place it on the tissue tilt your head back, pull down your lower lid and form a small pocket. Make sure that the tip of the bottle does not come into contact with your skin or eyelashes as it might contaminate the drops.

Look up and gently squeeze the bottle so that a single drop falls into the pocket made by your lower lid.

Blink the drops in press lightly on the inner corner of your eye this enables more of the drop to be absorbed and not run away down your tear duct.

Wipe any excess fluid from your closed eyelids with a clean tissue.

Recap your drop bottle if you have more than one drop to instill. Wait at least 5 minutes before putting in another drop.

Wash your hands with soap and water to remove any traces of medication.

If you have any problems please contact our nurse led helpline service Moorfields Direct on 0207 566 2345

How much does treatment cost?

Initial consultation

From £263

This includes an initial consultation and a visual acuity assessment.

If further outpatient tests and investigations are required, they will be charged at an additional rate. Your consultant will discuss this with you at your consultation.


The cost of onward treatment will be provided after initial consultation,  based on your personalised treatment plan.

Contact the new patient team

Call our new patient team

Lines are open Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm excluding bank holidays for general enquiries or to book an appointment.

0800 328 3421

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