In this particular episode of Ask an Eye Doc, you will learn:

  • What are topical and oral medications
  • Which type of medication can treat bacterial pink eye
  • The Rule of 7 for viral conjunctivitis

This episode will make more sense if you’ve already listened to episode 17 about when to see the eye doctor when you think you have pink eye.

If you have other questions about eye medications or any other eye-related question, go to to be featured on Ask an Eye Doc!

For you readers out there, here’s the answer in written form:

Today’s question comes from Debra, who submitted our very first audio question through After listening to episode 17, she thinks she might have bacterial conjunctivitis. Her eyes are red and painful with goopy discharge.

Debra’s question

Basically, Debra is worried about taking antibiotic eye drops, since she has had allergic reactions to many eye drops in the past. Her question is whether bacterial pink eye can be resolved by taking an antibiotic by mouth or if antibiotic eye drops required.

Since she’s had a cough recently, she wonders if her pink eye is viral and whether she should wait a couple days before seeing the eye doctor to see if it resolves on its own.

Debra, first of all, thank you so much for submitting your question through! It’s always really nice to hear a question in your own words and your 0wn voice.

Let me also say I hope nobody listening takes any of my episodes as medical advice since I have not examined you in person. Even if I miss one piece of the puzzle, it might change the entire treatment plan. This is why I do not diagnose or treat eye conditions over a podcast (something that is not in your best interest or mine).

Topical vs oral

Secondly, let me teach you two words about medications: topical and oral. Topical eye medications are placed directly on the eyes, like liquid eye drops or eye ointment. Oral medications are taken by mouth. In the eye care world, we can treat eye conditions both topically and orally.

If you have a bacterial infection, eye drops are not required. An oral antibiotic can be taken by mouth, which would allow the medication to enter your bloodstream and eventually reach the eye. The advantage to taking a topical eye medication is the eye receives a much higher concentration of medication since it is applied directly to the surface of the eye.

In severe cases of bacterial conjunctivitis, both topical and oral antibiotics may need to be  prescribed. In certain cases of eyelid infection, an oral medication is required since topical drops don’t absorb well into the eyelid.

So the short answer to your question is yes, an oral antibiotic may be effective at treating bacterial conjunctivitis.

Rule of 7

If your infection happens to be viral, which could be the case for Debra since she has a recent history of the common cold, remember the rule of 7:

  • Eye symptoms start 7 days after your eye was first infected
  • 7-10 days of pink eye and symptoms
  • You are still contagious for 7 days after your eyes are white again

Make sure you have good hygiene, including washing your hands frequently. Wash your face and eyes each morning, and try not to touch your eyes too much. If you do, make sure you wash your hands immediately afterward.

You can use artificial tears to help with some of the symptoms and flush out viral particles.

When to see an eye doctor

One thing you mentioned that concerns me is you describe eye pain like gravel in the eye. Again, please do not consider this post as medical advice. Do not hesitate to make an appointment with your local optometrist to ensure you receive the proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Hopefully, this answers some of your questions about how bacterial eye infections can be treated and how to handle a viral eye infection.

If you have any other questions regarding pink eye or any other eye-related condition, go to to have your question featured on Ask an Eye Doc.



AAED 24: Are eye drops necessary for bacterial pink eye?
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