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Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis)

What is Pink eye?

  • Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, is inflammation (redness and swelling) of the conjunctiva, the tissue covering the “whites” of the eyes and the inside of the eyelids.
  • Pink eye may result from a bacterial or viral infection.
  • The viruses that cause pink eye are the same ones that cause the common runny nose, cough and occasionally diarrhea.
  • Pink eye is more commonly seen during the fall and winter.
  • Bacterial conjunctivitis is more common in children younger than 6 years of age, while viral conjunctivitis is more common in older children.
  • The bacteria that cause pink eye are the same ones that cause ear infections. It is not uncommon for the doctor to find an ear infection along with the pink eye.
  • Pink eye may also be caused by an allergic reaction to something (e.g., pollen), by contact with something irritating (e.g., smoke in the air), or from other causes, such as Kawasaki disease.

The following information focuses on Pink eye caused by an infection.

How does a child get pink eye?

  • Pink eye can be spread from person to person through direct contact or if your child touches something with the organism on it (e.g., cup, toy) and then touches their eye.
  • Keep in mind that your child does not necessarily have to be exposed to someone else with Pink eye to get it, just the organism that causes it.

How long will it take my child to become ill after being exposed to someone else with pink eye?

  • Remember, just because your child is exposed to an ill person does not necessarily mean they too will become ill.
  • But if your child is to become ill, it usually takes between 2 – 7 days after exposure, depending on the specific bacteria or virus.

How long is someone with Pink eye contagious?

  • Your child will remain contagious, even after medical treatment begins, until there is no more discharge from the eye(s) or until all symptoms (e.g., redness) are gone.

What are the signs and symptoms of pink eye in children?

  1. Redness of the “whites” of the eyes (see photo calledPink eye)
  2. Redness of the inside of the eyelids
  3. There may be a white, yellow, or green discharge from the eyes
    When Pink eye is caused by bacteria, the discharge will generally be thick and green compared to Pink eye caused by a virus.
  4. The discharge typically makes the eyelashes stick together after sleeping at night.
  5. Watery and itchy eyes (more common if an allergic reaction is involved)
  6. Mild pain or discomfort in the eyes (may feel like “sand” is stuck in the eye)
  7. With a viral cause, swollen lymph nodes may be present in front of the ears or below the jaw bone.

How can pink eye be diagnosed?

  • In general, pink eye is a clinical diagnosis, meaning that the diagnosis based on the child’s signs and symptoms and physical examination.
  • A sample of the eye discharge is tested for bacteria or viruses only in special circumstances.

What is the treatment for pink eye?

  • If the doctor feels it is possible that your child has bacterial conjunctivitis, antibiotic eye drops or ointment will be prescribed.
  • The usual course of treatment is about 1 week and drops are recommended three to four times a day.
  • Clean the eyes carefully before putting in any medicine with warm water and cotton balls to remove any discharge.
  • Wipe gently along the eyelashes from the inner to the outer corner of the eye once, and then throw away the cotton ball.
  • Then pull down on the lower eyelid and put the medicine in the “pocket” between the eyeball and the eyelid.
  • Try not to scratch or rub the eye. This may worsen the irritation or spread the infection.
  • If you are alone, try sitting on the floor and holding your child’s head face up between your knees so your hands are free to open the eyes and put in the medicine.

Other things you can do at home include:

For pain and fever, try acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin).

Apply cool or warm compresses to the eye several times a day.

Discuss with your doctor before using any over-the-counter medications.

When can my child return to daycare or school?

  • For pink eye, it will depend on how quickly your child’s symptoms go away.
  • Each facility usually has its own rules, but in general, children can return to school when they:Have had antibiotic drops for at least a day
    Have no more eye drainage
    Have no fever
    Can eat and drink normally

When should I call my pediatrician concerning pink eye in my child?

  • It is best to call for specific instructions when you first suspect that your child has pink eye.
  • You should also call your doctor if your child has had fever for more than two to three days, the pink eye is getting worse including: eye pain, swelling of the eyelid or area around the eye or changes in eyesight such as blurriness or loss of vision.

How can pink eye be prevented?

  • Frequent hand washing is recommended to decrease the chance of becoming infected.
  • Washing all towels, washcloths, sheets and pillowcases that your child has used in hot soapy water.
  • Throwing away all cotton balls used to remove eye discharge.Click on how to prevent infection for more details.