Background: Acute infective conjunctivitis is a common problem in primary care, traditionally managed with topical antibiotics. A number of clinical trials have questioned the benefit of topical antibiotics for patients with acute infective conjunctivitis. Aim: To determine the benefit of antibiotics for the treatment of acute infective conjunctivitis in primary care and which subgroups benefit most. Design: An individual patient datameta-analysis. Method: Relevant trials were identified and individual patient data gathered for meta-analysis and subgroup analysis. Results: Three eligible trials were identified. Individual patient data were available from all primary care trials and data were available for analysis in 622 patients. Eighty per cent (246/308) of patients who received antibiotics and 74% (233/314) of controls were cured at day 7. There was a significant benefit of antibiotics versus control for cure at seven days in all cases combined (risk difference 0.08, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.01 to 0.14). Subgroups that showed a significant benefit from antibiotics were patients with purulent discharge (risk difference 0.09, 95% CI = 0.01 to 0.17) and patients with mild severity of red eye (risk difference 0.10, 95% CI = 0.02 to 0.18), while the type of control used (placebo drops versus nothing) showed a statistically significant interaction (P = 0.03). Conclusion: Acute conjunctivitis seen in primary care can be thought of as a self-limiting condition, with most patients getting better regardless of antibiotic therapy. Patients with purulent discharge or a mild severity of red eye may have a small benefit from antibiotics. Prescribing practices need to be updated, taking into account these results.