Infectious Pediatric Diseases Pink Eye Conjunctivitis

Does your child have itchy eyes? Do they seem red and watery? Your child may have a common condition known as conjunctivitis, or pink eye. While pink eye can be painful and irritating, it typically isn’t a serious condition and will resolve without medical treatment within a week or two. However, some cases require antibiotics or allergy medications.

Types of Conjunctivitis

Three types of conjunctivitis exist:

  • allergic conjunctivitis, which is common in children who have allergies
  • infectious conjunctivitis, which is most often caused by a bacteria or a virus
  • irritant conjunctivitis, which is caused by chemicals in the environment, such as chlorine, soap or air pollution.

Although allergic and irritant conjunctivitis can’t be spread, infectious conjunctivitis is particularly contagious. It can be spread:

  • by touching a surface that an infected person has touched
  • by touching the eyes with fingers that have come into contact with the virus or bacteria
  • through coughs and sneezes.

Infectious conjunctivitis can even be spread by swimming in water that an infected person has been in or by sharing towels with an infected person. For this reason, pink eye is commonly spread in schools and daycares.

The incubation period for bacterial conjunctivitis is just a few days. For viral conjunctivitis, it’s up to a week. The duration of bacterial conjunctivitis is about one week, while viral conjunctivitis can last for two weeks or more.

Symptoms of Conjunctivitis

Indications of pink eye vary from child to child, and the different types of conjunctivitis can exhibit different symptoms. Here are some symptoms to watch out for:

  • discharge from the eye
  • ear infection
  • eye pain
  • irritation, like sand in the eye
  • itching of the eye
  • lesions with crusty appearance
  • redness of the eye and inner eyelid
  • sensitivity to bright light
  • sneezing and runny nose
  • swollen eyelids
  • tearing.

Pink Eye: A Cause for Worry?

Pink eye is usually a mild condition and isn’t a cause for worry. However, if symptoms don’t improve after about five days or if your child starts complaining about vision problems, see a doctor as soon as possible.

Pink Eye Treatment

Most of the time, infectious conjunctivitis will resolve itself without medical treatment. However, your doctor is likely to recommend treatment with antibiotics. The antibiotics speed the healing process and decrease the chance that your child will spread the infection to other children.

For allergic conjunctivitis, your child’s doctor will probably prescribe oral anti-allergy medication or eye drops.

Several home treatments can make a child with pink eye more comfortable:

  • Be sure to keep the eyes clean using warm water and something soft, such as a cotton ball.
  • Offer acetaminophen for pain.
  • Provide cool or warm compresses for the eyes.

How to Prevent Pink Eye

To prevent infectious conjunctivitis, the contagious form of pink eye, instruct your children to wash their hands often. Be sure they don’t share items the following items with others:

  • eye drops
  • eye makeup
  • pillowcases
  • tissues
  • towels
  • washcloths.

To prevent allergic conjunctivitis, keep your windows and doors closed on days with a high pollen count and dust and vacuum your home often.

To prevent irritant conjunctivitis, simply avoid the irritant as much as possible.

Resources

Ben-Joseph, Elana Pearl (2006). Conjunctivitis. Retrieved Sept. 6, 2007, from the Kids Health Web site: http://www.kidshealth.org/teen/infections/common/conjunctivitis.html.

Mayo Clinic Staff (2006). Pink eye (Conjunctivitis). Retrieved Sept. 6, 2007, from the Mayo Clinic Web site: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/pink-eye/DS00258.