His eyes are red and his eyelashes are stuck together with a thick yellow and green liquid. You think he has pinkeye. What should you do?

Pinkeye, which doctors call “conjunctivitis,” occurs when the conjunctiva—a thin film that covers the front of the eye and inside the eyelids—becomes itchy, swollen or red. According to the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Kid Care App, if you think your child has pinkeye, call his or her pediatrician within 24 hours.

Most of the time, pinkeye is caused by bacteria, viruses or allergies. The best way to treat pinkeye often depends on what caused it. If your child has pinkeye that’s caused by bacteria, called “bacterial conjunctivitis,” you may see yellow drainage in one or both eyes. Often, this kind of pinkeye happens after your child has a cold. Antibiotic eye drops, which require a prescription from your doctor, may help.

No matter what causes your child’s pinkeye, these tips will help him feel better at home—and remember that pinkeye is very contagious. Always wash your hands well after you touch your child’s eye and/or eye drainage.

Remove drainage. Wet a cotton ball with warm water. This helps to unstick eyelashes and gently wipe pus and drainage from your child’s eyelids. 

Then give antibiotic eye drops. Eye drops work best if drainage is removed first. 

  • Before you give her eye drops, wash your hands. Ask her to sit up straight. Gently pull down the eyelid under her eye. Insert a single drop and ask her to close the eye for two minutes. 
  • If she won’t open her eye, have her lie down. Wash your hands. Put one drop on the inside corner of the eye. If she opens her eye or blinks, the eye drop will flow in where it needs to be. If she keeps them closed, the drop will slowly seep in anyway.

Be patient. Antibiotic eye drops should clear up any drainage you see in three days. Red eyes may last up to one week. Give your child antibiotic eye drops for 24 hours before you send him back to school.

Call your doctor if … the eyelid or area around the eye looks very red or swollen. This is important if your child also has a fever. He could have an infection of the tissue around the eye. Also call a doctor if you still see drainage three days, or 72 hours, after starting antibiotic eye drops.

If you would like information on pinkeye sent to you via email or mail, contact the Family Resource Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

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