Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is a common eye infection and most children will suffer from it at least once while they are growing up. In most cases it’s harmless as it clears up quickly with the help of eye drops prescribed by the doctor.
What causes conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis can be caused by a bacterial infection or by an allergy. Newborn babies are especially prone to conjunctivitis as a result of bacterial infection in the birth canal. In older children, the cause is usually a virus, a bacteria or an allergy.
Is conjunctivitis infectious?
Viral or bacterial conjunctivitis is infectious. In other words it can pass from one eye to the other, and from one person to another. This can happen by sharing towels or toys. Allergic conjunctivitis is not infectious. It is common in children who have hayfever and asthma.
Common symptoms of conjunctivitis
- A pink discoloration of one or both eyes
- Itchy or burning eyes
- Tear forming on the eye
- Swollen eyelids and blurred vision
- Increased sensitivity to light
- A discharge from the eye that can form a crust at night
Discharge from conjunctivitis
If it is infectious conjunctivitis and caused by bacteria, the discharge will be yellow. If it is allergic conjunctivitis, the discharge is watery and clear. Viral conjunctivitis causes a sticky clear discharge and is almost always accompanied by flu-like symptoms.
Infectious conjunctivitis usually starts in one eye then spreads to the other. Allergic conjunctivitis tends to start in both eyes at the same time.
How is conjunctivitis treated?
A child with conjunctivitis should visit the doctor. The type of treatment the child will need will depend on the type of conjunctivitis they have:
- If the child’s doctor thinks the infection is caused by bacteria, they will recommend a course of antibiotic eye drops.
- If it’s a viral infection, they will recommend a different type of eye drops that reduce inflammation.
- If the child’s conjunctivitis is caused by an allergic reaction, the doctor might suggest antihistamine medication to soothe the irritation.
How to clean eyes and ease symptoms?
A child’s symptoms can also be relieved by gently cleaning away any crusty discharge with clean cotton wool soaked in cool clean drinking water. Start in the corner of the eye, and gently wipe to the outer eye. Use a separate piece of cotton wool for each eye to prevent spreading the infection.
Prevent conjunctivitis from spreading
If the child’s conjunctivitis is caused by an infection, it can be prevented from spreading by making sure the child:
- washes their hands frequently
- tries not to rub their eyes
- doesn’t use towels that are shared with other people
Is conjunctivitis dangerous?
Conjunctivitis is quite common and usually does not damage a child’s eyes or cause long-term vision problems. However, if the symptoms last longer than one week, despite treatment, it’s good to go back to the doctor who might then refer your child to a paediatric ophthalmologist.
Dr. Wanwadee Sapmee Panyakat, MD. (7 March 2020)