Mya Care Blogger 08 Sep 2023

Eye flu refers to any common viral eye infection that causes conjunctivitis (pink eye). Seasonal outbreaks of eye flu are common worldwide. While usually not difficult to treat, in severe cases, eye flu can lead to vision problems if not treated on time. Knowing eye flu symptoms and treatment options can help you to identify and resolve the problem swiftly.

In this article, we will explore eye flu in detail, shedding light on signs and symptoms, types, causes, treatment, and prevention. Home remedies for eye flu and specific medications are also covered to aid with recovery.

Eye Flu Overview

Eye flu is a viral infection that causes inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin membrane that covers the white area of the eye and the inner surface of the eyelids, and is medically referred to as viral conjunctivitis. This condition is often colloquially referred to as pink eye due to the characteristic pink or red appearance of the affected eye.

Eye Flu vs Conjunctivitis. While eye flu is often used interchangeably with conjunctivitis, conjunctivitis is not just caused by flu. The four main causes of conjunctivitis include viruses, bacteria, allergens, and irritants. Eye flu most often refers to viral conjunctivitis, although it can easily be confused with the other types as well.

Out of all types of conjunctivitis, viral conjunctivitis is the most common type, constituting between 75-80% of all cases. The prevalence of eye flu changes depending on the season, region, age, and gender.

Types and Causes of Eye Flu

There are many types of eye infections that can lead to eye flu. Adenovirus is the number one cause of eye flu, accounting for between 65-90% of all cases. It is also responsible for respiratory and gastrointestinal infections, which may occur before or after the appearance of viral pink eye. Herpes simplex virus and enterovirus make up most other cases of viral conjunctivitis. There have also been reports of eye flu attributed to COVID-19, influenza A, measles, and rubella.

Acute Hemorrhagic Conjunctivitis is a rare, highly contagious disease that causes the eyes to bleed alongside intense swelling and all other common symptoms of eye flu. This is believed to be caused by picornaviruses EV70 and coxsackievirus A24v and warrants specialized medical attention.

Highly contagious, viral conjunctivitis is caused by direct contact with an infected caused by direct contact with an infected individual. It is best to avoid touching your eyes if you come down with eye flu or regular flu to avoid cross-contamination between the eyes and the body and exacerbate symptoms. Surfaces can also become contaminated with viral fragments, making it important to practice good hygiene and take preventive measures. People wearing contact lenses should take extra precautions because they are more susceptible to developing eye flu.

How to Tell Between an Eye Infection and Flu

Eye pain from the flu is a common complaint. Many individuals battle to discern between an eye infection and the flu. Here is how you can tell the difference:

An Eye Infection is usually localized to just the eyes yet may occasionally involve the nose and ears. It also may be caused by bacteria, in which case it will look completely different from the pink eye caused by flu.

In Influenza, the eyes may become infected as they are a common entry point for the virus. This is also the main cause of eye pain during the flu. If you have pink eyes alongside other flu-like symptoms, such as a cough, sore throat, fevers, and aching joints, then you are probably fighting off influenza. A cold can also easily be confused for viral conjunctivitis, yet the symptoms fall somewhere between an eye infection and flu.

Other Causes of Conjunctivitis

Eye flu can easily be confused with other types of conjunctivitis, such as bacterial conjunctivitis and allergic conjunctivitis. These comprise less than 1% of all cases and are not likely to be responsible for eye flu. By knowing the signs and symptoms of eye flu, you can discern which type is causing your pink eye and opt for the best treatment.

Symptoms and Signs

Recognizing the symptoms of eye flu is crucial for timely intervention and management. Common eye flu symptoms include[2]:

  • Red or pink appearance of the eye
  • Watery eyes or excessive tearing/discharge
  • Itching and irritation in the eye
  • Clear or colored discharge or mucus from the eye
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Pain or pressure in the eyes

Eye flu frequently starts in one eye and swiftly spreads to the other eye.. If caused by adenovirus, it is possible for it to spread to the lymph glands, especially in the absence of good hygiene. This can lead to a swollen throat, gastrointestinal symptoms, fevers, cough, and other flu-like symptoms.

Not all individuals experience eye pain with eye flu. If you have pink eyes with symptoms not listed above, you might have an eyelid infection or a different type of conjunctivitis. If you are not sure what type of eye flu you have, it is best to seek medical help to treat your condition.

How can you tell whether an eye infection is bacterial or viral?

Eye flu is sometimes confused with bacterial or allergic conjunctivitis, which can seem similar. The difference between them is obvious when comparing their symptoms. Symptoms of non-viral conjunctivitis are briefly reviewed below:

  • Bacterial Conjunctivitis is frequently caused by bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococcus pneumoniae. Symptoms that differentiate bacterial conjunctivitis from viral conjunctivitis include a thicker, yellow, or green discharge and crusty or sticky eyes. This type can result from poor hygiene or contact with contaminated people and objects. It is rare for bacterial conjunctivitis to display symptoms of a cold or flu, as seen in the viral type.
  • Allergens like pet dander, dust mites, or pollen cause allergic conjunctivitis. It leads to similar symptoms to that of viral conjunctivitis, such as pink eyes, intense itching, eye-watering, and sometimes a runny nose or sneezing, yet it is not contagious. Allergic conjunctivitis will often also occur in both eyes at once instead of starting in one eye and spreading to the other.

How long does eye flu last?

It is not currently possible to cure an eye infection in 24 hours. The duration of eye flu depends upon which infection you have and the state of your immune system. For the most common type, the average eye flu recovery time is thought to be 4-5 days. This is also the most contagious window for those with viral conjunctivitis.

If you do not take good care of yourself and do not practise good hygiene, the infection may become systemic and take approximately 1-2 weeks to resolve. If you are coughing, sneezing, or have a sore throat, you are probably still contagious. It is best to avoid working around other people or engaging in social activities until the worst symptoms have worn off.

Treatment Options

There are no real treatment options for viral eye flu aside from resting and supporting your immune system. Viral infections usually go away on their own within a week or two, yet the process may be quicker if the infection is kept contained to just the eyes.

The below section covers self-care practises, eye flu medicine, and natural remedies for treating eye flu at home. If the condition does not improve within 5 days, it is important to see a doctor.

Conjunctivitis Self-Care

If you have viral conjunctivitis, self-care, and hygiene help to keep the virus contained, aid in eye flu recovery, and may be able to alleviate unpleasant symptoms. Some of the best tips for managing eye flu include:

  • Applying damp, warm compresses to the eyes to help soothe irritation.
  • Avoid rubbing the eyes to prevent symptoms from worsening or potential complications.
  • Maintaining good hygiene, washing hands frequently, and cleaning personal items regularly, including towels and linen.

Natural Remedies for Treating Eye Infections at Home

There are no specific remedies known to cure eye flu in one day. It might be helpful to understand that many nutrient-rich foods and supplements contain substances that can improve your immunity when fighting a viral eye infection. These commonly work by preventing viruses, like adenovirus, from binding to cells and reinfecting the area. They also lower inflammation, which supports the immune system in managing the infection optimally without causing too much damage in the process (a common viral strategy for avoiding immune detection).[3]

Antiviral Foods. Herbs, spices and teas such as mint, basil, ginger, garlic, chamomile, green tea, and black tea are renowned for possessing an abundance of these antiviral compounds, as well as citrus fruits like lemon. Drinking beverages containing these may lessen irritability symptoms and assist in preventing the infection from spreading to other parts of the body.

Herbal Warm Compress. You can also try using a warm tea bag over the eyes in place of a warm compress, provided you have clean hands, and wash the area well after.

Salt Water Rinse. If you do not have eye drops to help cleanse your eyes, you may want to rinse them with a warm salt water solution of your own. Iodized salt may possess extra antiviral properties that can slow the infection down and promote optimal clearance.

OTC Medicine For Eye Flu

Over-the-counter medicine for eye flu may be able to reduce symptom severity. A few useful suggestions include:

Eye Drops (Artificial Tears). Eye drops or artificial tears contain a clear saline solution that can flush out the eyes. They might just make the best eye flu medicine, as they can help cleanse the eyes and alleviate symptoms of irritation and discomfort. This is also an effective option for other types of conjunctivitis caused by allergies or irritants.

Vitamin C Supplement. Vitamin C has a wide range of actions that can be helpful for dealing with most forms of conjunctivitis and flu. It can help lower inflammation, improve immunity, and directly inhibit several common bacterial and viral strains known to cause eye infections.[4]

Pain Relief. Some sources recommend using painkillers such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories for pink eye pain. These may help to lower eye pain and alleviate other symptoms of flu, yet some studies associate them with an increased risk of eye problems.

Prescription Medications

If your eyes are not responding to self-care or other remedies for dealing with a viral infection, then you might be suffering from a bacterial eye infection and require prescription antibiotics. A physician can aid in identifying the infection's primary cause and the best course of action for treatment.

Off-Label Antivirals. While there are no approved antivirals that can help treat viral conjunctivitis, a doctor may prescribe an off-label antiviral or corticosteroids to help treat immune-compromised patients. Of these, cidofovir, ribavirin, and ganciclovir have been shown to be effective at helping patients to manage adenovirus infections. These are not without side effects. However, they ought to be approached with caution.[5]

Prevention Measures

Preventing eye flu in the future requires avoiding infected people and objects, as well as practicing good hygiene. You can minimize the risk of catching an eye infection by:

  • Washing your hands frequently with soap and water.
  • Not touching your face too often or without cleaning your hands beforehand.
  • Regularly disinfecting surfaces and objects that are used often, including door knobs, light switches, and electronic devices.
  • Ensuring shared items are properly cleaned before use, such as keyboards or phones.
  • Not sharing personal items, like towels, cosmetics, or contact lenses.
  • Avoid close contact with people who have pink eye or flu-like symptoms.
  • Staying away from overly crowded areas.
  • Being aware of hand hygiene after touching public surfaces, such as benches, rails, and doors.

Complications and When to Seek Medical Help

While most cases resolve without complications, eye flu can be dangerous if severe enough and left untreated for too long. Severe infections can lead to corneal ulcers, which can result in vision problems that may require surgical correction if not treated promptly. Rarely, an eye infection may cause systemic sickness by migrating to other body systems.

It is essential to seek medical assistance if you experience the following:

  • Severe pain in the eyes
  • A sudden change in vision
  • The eyes become more red
  • Symptoms worsen or persist despite treatment
  • The infection does not improve after a few days of self-care and over-the-counter treatments


Eye flu is a common viral malady that causes conjunctivitis and is known to affect millions of people globally every year. Understanding eye flu can go a long way toward improving recovery and reducing the risk of recurrent infections and long-term visual complications. There are no approved medicines for eye flu, and treatment includes self-care measures and remedies to support immune function. Prioritizing hand hygiene, avoiding close contact with infected individuals, and maintaining a clean environment are key measures to lower the likelihood of catching and transmitting eye flu.

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