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Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis)

A clear membrane that lines the “whites” of the eye and eyelid is called the conjunctiva. When this becomes irritated, infected or inflamed, it is called conjunctivitis or pink eye.

Pink eye is the most common eye complaint in children. While many assume a child is contagious when they have pink eye, this is not always true. There are many different reasons pink eye occurs.


The most common cause of pink eye is a viral infection. Viral pink eye is a contagious form. Along with redness, eyelids can become puffy, eyes can be watery and bright lights can bother vision. Viral pink eye can clear up on it’s own within a week, but a visit to the doctor would be a good idea to ensure that no other part of the eye has an infection.

Pink eye caused by a bacterial infection usually involves a lot of drainage. You may notice this especially when your child wakes up and their eye(s) are very “goopy.” The discharge can also be green in color.

In both viral and bacterial conjunctivitis, the discomfort and infection can be in just one or both eyes. Sometimes just an allergen can cause pink eye. It can mimic that of bacteria and viral conjunctivitis-but removing the irritant should remedy the redness and discomfort.

Conjunctivitis can present in newborns for various reasons. Sometimes bacteria enter their eyes during the birthing process. This is one of the reasons ointment is applied to the eyes shortly after birth.

Partial or total blocked tear ducts can also cause irritation and pink eye in newborns and children.

Other infections and disease can also cause conjunctivitis. Newborns can be exposed to Gonorrhea and Chlamydia from mom during delivery.

In older children (and newborns) any exposure to a herpes virus can also lead to conjunctivitis.

Treatment for conjunctivitis depends on the child’s age and the cause.

Most bacterial forms of conjunctivitis can be treated with antibiotic drops or ointments placed directly on the eye.

Viral forms may have no treatments at all, or a doctor may prescribe antibiotic drops to prevent other infections.

If an allergic reaction is to blame, removing the allergen should help. Your child’s doctor may write a prescription for an allergy medication to help with the symptoms.

Anytime conjunctivitis is present, extra care needs to be taken. The infection can spread easily from one eye to the other. Good hand washing techniques are always important. When using tissues, make sure you use a new section when wiping each eye. When giving eye drops, make sure the tip of the bottle does not come in direct contact with the eye.

Remember that not all forms of conjunctivitis are contagious. Diagnosis can be made by simple examination or a doctor may choose to do a culture of the drainage. If viral or bacterial infections are diagnosed, the drainage from the eye is contagious for about two days after antibiotic treatment.

Your child will need to stay home from school or daycare until they are no longer contagious.

© Rebecca Pillar 2008

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