Seeing Red? Your Child Might Have Pinkeye.
“My daughter woke up this morning with red eyes, and her eyelashes were matted together with a greenish/yellow drainage. Last night when I wiped the discharge away, it kept coming back. Do you think she has pinkeye?”
Pinkeye, or conjunctivitis, occurs when the conjunctiva—a thin mucous membrane that covers the front portion of the eye and inner eyelids—becomes irritated or red. There are many causes of conjunctivitis and treatment can vary depending on the cause. The most common causes in children are bacteria, viruses and allergies. Bacterial conjunctivitis produces a yellow drainage from the eye(s) and is often a complication of a cold.
Home Care Tips
If your child has bacterial conjunctivitis, your pediatrician may treat it with antibiotic eye drops or eye ointment, and it’s important to keep the following in mind:
- Bacterial conjunctivitis is very contagious, so your child will be considered contagious until she has taken the antibiotic for 24 hours and the amount of drainage is minimal.
- Frequent, thorough hand washing by all family members will help keep the infection from spreading throughout the household.
- The dried and liquid drainage from the eyelids should be removed with warm water and wet cotton balls every hour as needed. The drainage is contagious, so dispose of your cleaning tools carefully and wash your hands immediately afterwards.
- Your child should have her own towel, washcloth and pillowcases, which need to be washed frequently until the infection subsides.
Using the Medicine
Here are some suggestions for using the eye drops or eye ointment:
- Eye drops work best if the drainage is removed before putting them in.
- If your child won’t open her eye, have her lie down. Put one drop over the inner corner of the eye. If your child opens her eye or blinks, the eye drop will flow in where it needs to be. If she doesn’t open the eye, the drop will slowly seep in anyway.
- For a cooperative child, wash your hands, then, while she's sitting upright, gently pull down the lower eye lid. Insert a single drop and ask her to close the eye for two minutes.
- Children with contact lenses need to switch to glasses temporarily. Disinfect the contacts before wearing them again, or discard them if they are disposable.
Most bacterial eye infections gradually get better over two to three days with treatment. Sometimes there is no improvement on the first day. The red eyes, which are part of the underlying cold, may persist for up to one week. Contact your child’s pediatrician right away if:
- the eye becomes very itchy, especially right after giving the medication; your child could be allergic to it.
- the eyelid or area around the eye looks very red or swollen, especially if your child has fever; this could indicate an infection of the tissue around the eye.
- the drainage lasts longer than three days (72 hours) after starting treatment.
This article was provided by the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Answer Line. For more information about pinkeye, please contact our Family Resource Center.