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What is an Eye Cold & How to Treat It?

What is Eye Cold?

The viral form of conjunctivitis is referred to as an eye cold. Many people refer to conjunctivitis as ‘pink eye‘ and thus, an eye cold is also often referred to as ‘pink eye’ only. However, an eye cold is not the same as ‘pink eye’. This is because pink eye is a broad and general term that describes any type of conjunctivitis. There are three types of conjunctivitis depending on the cause – bacterial, viral, or occurring due to allergies.

An eye cold specifically refers to conjunctivitis that is caused by a virus. Eye cold can affect either one eye or more commonly, both the eyes.

It takes around seven to ten days for an eye cold to clear up. This condition is extremely contagious and if you are suffering from an eye cold, then you need to keep washing your hands frequently and avoid contact with others as much as possible.

What is an Eye Cold & How to Treat It?

Symptoms of an Eye Cold

Signs and symptoms of an eye cold, or viral conjunctivitis, include all the usual symptoms of conjunctivitis. These include:

  • Reddening of the white area of your eyes
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Discharge from the eyes – this might be clear, white or yellowish in color
  • You may also have watery discharge from your eyes when you have an eye cold.

It is important that you distinguish between the different types of conjunctivitis to ensure that you indeed have an eye cold and that it is not another form of conjunctivitis. Typically an eye cold will cause a watery discharge rather than a thick discharge. An eye cold also tends to occur with either a common cold or some type of respiratory tract infections.

Bacterial conjunctivitis occurs most commonly with an ear infection. The discharge from the eyes that happens when you have bacterial conjunctivitis is thick and tends to affect only one eye.

In the case of allergic conjunctivitis, the condition usually happens when there is a high pollen count in the atmosphere. Apart from symptoms of conjunctivitis, you are also likely to experience some other allergic symptoms as well, mostly itchy eyes.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, then you should seek medical attention immediately so as to stop the condition from becoming worse. The right treatment and determining the cause will help you recover faster.

Causes of an Eye Cold

The most common cause of an eye cold is an adenovirus. Adenoviruses are commonly associated with head and chest colds. Because of this, it is very important that you keep washing your hands frequently so that the infection does not spread. Both viral and bacterial conjunctivitis is extremely contagious and spreads easily to other people.

How to Determine If It’s Not An Eye Cold?

The condition of pink eye which is caused by an infection is most commonly due to viruses. This will generally clear up on its own within a couple of days to a week or two. In some very rare cases though, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as chlamydia and gonorrhea can also cause infections of the eye and cause symptoms that are similar to those of conjunctivitis.

  • Eye herpes or ocular herpes is also another complicated viral infection of the eye that shares many of the symptoms that occur when you have conjunctivitis.
  • Apart from these, there are many other conditions that affect the eyes and share similar symptoms to conjunctivitis. These also include keratitis and eyelid cellulitis.
  • This is why it is so important that you visit your doctor once you start experiencing the symptoms so that you can get a proper diagnosis of what kind of infection you have in the eyes.

Complications of an Eye Cold

Usually conjunctivitis or eye cold do not have any complications. However, a severe case of eye cold or any other severe form of conjunctivitis can lead to inflammation in your cornea. This may, over a period of time, affect your vision and also cause scarring if you leave it untreated. This is why a prompt examination and correct treatment is needed to prevent this complication from happening. Remember even if you feel like your condition is not bad, it is still better to get it checked out because ultimately it is an infection of the eye and you don’t want to leave it untreated.

Diagnosis of an Eye Cold

Your doctor is capable of diagnosing conjunctivitis by examining your symptoms, a physical examination of your eye, and also by reviewing your medical history. In some cases, your doctor may collect some of the discharge that is happening from the affected eye to get it tested.

It would be best if you consult an eye doctor, known as an ophthalmologist. Even an optometrist would be able to diagnose conjunctivitis.

How is an Eye Cold Treated?

Usually, most cases of eye cold do not require any special treatment and the infection just runs its course, clearing up on its own after a week or ten days. Sometimes it can take even less time, while in some cases it can even take two to three weeks to clear up on its own.

An eye cold is extremely contagious, particularly during the phase when you are still experiencing the symptoms. Unlike bacterial conjunctivitis, it is not possible to treat an eye cold with antibiotics as the viral infection does not respond to antibiotics. In fact, if you use an antibiotic eye drop, then it can actually worsen the condition and make the eye cold last even longer.

If you consult a doctor, then your treatment will focus on providing relief from your symptoms and also ensuring that the infection does not spread further. Your doctor is also likely to recommend that you bathe your eyes in warm water, use a cold or warm compress, and use artificial tears once in a while during the day.

If you wear contact lenses, then you will have to remove them and avoid wearing them until your eye cold is completely gone. If you wear disposable lenses, then it is advisable that you discard the ones you were wearing when you got the infection so that under no circumstances you end up re-infecting your eyes. If you are wearing hard lenses, then you can remove them and disinfect them before putting them back in your eyes. Do not put your lenses back in until you are sure that you are totally free of all the symptoms.

Also, discard any face or eye makeup that you were using before or during the time you had your eye cold.

How to Prevent Eye Colds?

One of the most effective ways of preventing eye colds is to practice good hygiene. This will help prevent catching and spreading of an eye cold. Here are some tips you can practice:

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly
  • Avoid touching your eyes with your hands
  • Store your contact lenses properly and clean them regularly
  • Wash your hands both before and after putting in and removing your contact lenses

Following these tips will also help you avoid catching and spreading an infection to your eyes even when you have a head or chest cold. Additionally, you should also take care of the following household items that are used regularly.

  • Change your pillowcases, towels, and washcloths daily
  • Do not share your washcloths and towels with anyone else
  • Wash items that regularly touch your eyes and face in hot and soapy water
  • Avoid sharing your makeup with others

In order to make sure that you avoid spreading your eye cold to anybody else, remain at home until all your symptoms are clear.


If you think you might be having an eye cold, then you should consult a doctor so that the exact cause of your infection can be determined, a proper diagnosis can be reached, and your treatment can be begun at the earliest if required. It is important to consult a doctor so that he/she can rule out any serious conditions such as complications from any STDs or corneal abrasion. If your doctor is satisfied that the cause of your conjunctivitis symptoms is viral, then you will focus on how to relieve your symptoms and make yourself as comfortable as possible in the coming days till your symptoms clear up.

An eye cold typically clears up on its own without any treatment within a week or two. However, sometimes it may take as long as three weeks even. During this entire period, you need to ensure you practice good hygiene so that you prevent your condition from worsening or from spreading. Apart from finding ways to relieve your symptoms, there is really nothing much you can do except to wait it out till your eye cold gets better on its own.


  1. Mayo Clinic. “Conjunctivitis (pink eye).” https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/conjunctivitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20372058
  2. American Academy of Ophthalmology. “Conjunctivitis.” https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/what-is-conjunctivitis
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis).” https://www.cdc.gov/conjunctivitis/index.html
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 24, 2023

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