Pink eye is what many people commonly called 'viral conjunctivitis'.
It is caused by a virus (the same one that causes the common cold and some stomach flus) and often follows your exposure to either a virus that causes a common cold, a viral gastroenteritis (vomiting and/or diarrhea) or to someone with a red eye or one of those viruses.
Pink eye usually starts out as mostly a ‘pinkening’ of the white part of the eye. It can also cause any of the following symptoms: pain, pressure, redness, burning, itching, foreign-body sensation, watering, light sensitivity in one or both eyes.
Shortly thereafter, it usually goes into the other eye. Many times, the only thing that bothers the person is that the eye is red.
Unfortunately, there isn't any treatment that makes the virus go away and/or die. Many primary care doctors will mistakenly give out antibiotic drops for this and tell the patient that they will not be infectious after taking this drop for 24 hours. This is just simply not true. Antibiotics only work against bacteria and therefore have no treating power against viruses.Since there is no medicine to make a viral conjunctivitis resolve, you are unfortunately left to wait it out until the virus leaves the system. This can take up to 1-2 weeks for the eyes to look and feel normal again.
I tell my patients that once their eyes look and feel normal again, then they are good to resume prior activities. Because there's no medicine to kill the virus, infection control is the most important issue after symptom control; these secretions are incredibly contagious and so alcohol-based hand-gel is good to carry around with you and use liberally. Also, don't share towels with anyone and try to avoid being around elderly persons, persons with compromised immune systems or infants.
As far as symptom treatment, cool compresses, artificial tears (without redness relievers in them) and OTC pain relief (ibuprofen or tylenol) are the best to control symptoms while you wait out the virus to run its course, which can take anywhere from 1-2 weeks. Its difficult to be a hermit for that long, so when the eyes look and feel normal, it is reasonable to behave normally as far as infection precautions go.
If things are not getting better after 1 week, or if it does start to get very painful or light sensitive to where you couldn't function, or if it just stays in one eye and the discharge and redness become significantly worse, then I would recommend going to the doctor as you may need prescription medicine to treat it.