15 June 2016
Your child comes home from preschool (or daycare, birthday party, sleepover or anywhere he/she has been in close contact with other children) with red, puffy, weepy eyes. What’s going on? You guessed it…pink eye.
Also known as conjunctivitis, pink eye occurs mainly in children—so we see a lot of cases of it in our pediatric practice—but actually anyone can get it. College students, teachers, daycare workers, kids in summer camp and those in the military are particularly susceptible due to their close proximity with each other.
What is pink eye?
Pink eye occurs when the thin, clear covering of the white of the eye and the inside of the eyelids (conjunctiva) become inflamed. Anything that triggers inflammation will cause these conjunctival blood vessels to dilate. Eye doctors use the term “pink eye” usually when they’re referring only to viral conjunctivitis, a highly contagious infection caused by a variety of viruses.
How do you know your child has it?
- The skin around the eye or eyelid is red
- Blurry or loss of vision that does not clear when he/she blinks
- Pain in the eye, not just irritation
- Light is very painful
- It feels like there’s a foreign object in the eye
- The eye is red and there is a yellow, green, or bloody discharge that does not go away in 24 hours. (If this occurs, your child may need antibiotics.)
- The pink eye lasts longer than 7 days.
Three types of pink eye
There are three different types of conjunctivitis, each caused by a different irritant.
- Viral conjunctivitis. Caused by a virus, similar to the common cold. This type of pink eye is very contagious, but usually will clear up on its own in a few days without medical treatment.
- Bacterial conjunctivitis. Caused by bacteria, this type of pink eye can cause serious damage to the eye if left untreated.
- Allergic conjunctivitis. Caused by eye irritants such as pollen, dust and animal dander. It can be seasonal (caused by pollen) or flare up year-round (dust, pet dander).
10 things you and your child can do to keep from getting pink eye
Here are 10 simple precautions you and your child can take to significantly reduce his/her (and your) risk of getting pink eye:
- Never share personal items such as washcloths, hand towels or tissues.
- Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.
- Avoid rubbing or touching your eyes.
- Wash any discharge from your child’s eyes several times a day using a fresh cotton ball or paper towel. Afterwards, discard the cotton ball or paper towel and wash your hands with soap and warm water.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially when at school, at camp or in other public places and before eating.
- Keep a hand disinfectant (e.g., Purell) handy and use it frequently.
- Frequently clean surfaces such as counter tops, faucet handles, door handles and shared phones with an antiseptic cleaner.
- If your child suffers from seasonal allergies, ask your pediatrician what can be done to minimize his/her symptoms before they begin.
- When your child goes swimming, make sure he/she wears swim goggles to protect his/her eyes from bacteria and other microorganisms in the water that can cause conjunctivitis.
- Wash your hands after applying eye drops or ointment to your eye or your child’s eye.
Keep your child home until he/she is not contagious
Because pink eye is very contagious, I always ask the parents of my patients who have pink eye to keep their child home from school or day care until he/she is no longer contagious (usually 1-2 days) and to refrain from direct contact with others (adults and children) to keep the infection from spreading. It’s usually safe to return to school when symptoms have gone away, but it’s important to continue practicing good hygiene all the time to avoid getting pink eye again.
In some cases, it may be something other than pink eye
Because a red, bloodshot or pink eye can be a sign of many different types of eye problems—some that can be quite serious—make sure you consult with your pediatrician and even better, see an eye doctor if your child’s symptoms don’t go away or even get worse.
If your child is experiencing any kind of eye or vision problem, come see us
If your child’s eyes are red, burning, itchy or “weepy,” or if he/she is experiencing eye pain or vision problems, please contact us at Westchester Health Pediatrics to see one of our pediatric specialists. Over the years we’ve seen hundreds of cases of pink eye, so we have lots of experience in helping patients and their parents get through this. We’ll diagnose the condition and together, decide on the best course of treatment.