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What is pinkeye, its symptoms, treatment, and how do you get it?

baby rubbing his eyes

Key points:

1. Conjunctivitis, commonly known as “pink eye,” is a common eye infection characterized by redness and swelling.


2. There are three types of conjunctivitis: viral, bacterial, and allergic, each with distinct symptoms and contagiousness.

3. Symptoms of conjunctivitis vary based on the type. Viral conjunctivitis can cause light sensitivity and watery, itchy eyes, while bacterial conjunctivitis results in sticky discharge. Allergic conjunctivitis leads to watery, itchy eyes and is not contagious.

3. To prevent pink eye, practice good hygiene by frequently washing hands, avoiding eye touching, and keeping personal items separate. Consult a doctor if you suspect pink eye and maintain proper hygiene to prevent its spread.

Does your child have pink, itchy, or watery eyes? They may have conjunctivitis.

What is pink eye? 

Conjunctivitis, better known as “pink eye”, may sound a bit scary but it’s the most common eye infection among children. It is an infection of the conjunctiva, the membrane coating the eyes and lids. The main symptoms of the infection are when the white part of the eye turns pink or red, as the eye’s blood vessels become inflamed. You might also notice your little one has dried secretions around their eyelids or some swelling.

Types of conjunctivitis

One thing you should be aware of is that not all pink eye infections are treated equally. There are three types of conjunctivitis –viral, bacterial, and allergic– and this is what each of them does:

  • Viral conjunctivitis is caused by a virus and is very contagious. Remember to gently wash your baby’s eyes with warm water and rub any dried discharge. 
  • Bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria and is also contagious. If untreated, it can cause serious damage to the eyes. 
  • Allergic (or environmental) conjunctivitis is caused by eye irritants such as pollen, pet dander, or dust. This type could be triggered seasonally or all year-round.

It’s important to note that, although getting pink eye from allergies or chemical irritants is not contagious, bacterial and viral conjunctivitis are very contagious –they can be easily transmitted by coughing, sneezing, and hand-eye contact. So remember to consult with your pediatrician

One thing you should be aware of is that not all pink eye infections are treated equally. Since there are three types of conjunctivitis, the treatments may vary. 

  • Tip: if you are using drops and your baby’s eyes are closed, the easiest thing to do is to target the inside corner of your baby’s eye. This way, when they open their eyes, the medicine will go inside.

Symptoms of conjunctivitis 

There are also differences in symptoms depending on which type of infection your little one has. And you guessed it right! The first symptom of pink eye is that the eye has a pink appearance. Thereafter, the symptoms depend on the type of conjunctivitis the child has.

  • Viral conjunctivitis: You will notice your little one is sensible to the light as well as watery and itchy eyes. It’s also mostly accompanied by cold symptoms. Remember that this type of infection is highly contagious and may be spread by coughing and sneezing.
  • Bacterial conjunctivitis: You will notice a sticky and yellowish or greenish discharge in the corner of your child’s eye. It is contagious and usually transmitted by direct contact with infected hands or objects that have touched the eye (such as pillows, towels, tissues, etc.).
  • Allergic (or environmental) conjunctivitis: Usually displays watery and itchy eyes and is often accompanied by stuffiness and a runny nose. The good thing is that it is not contagious!

Another clue to look out for is that, unlike allergic conjunctivitis where both eyes are affected, viral and bacterial conjunctivitis may infect only one eye at first and take several days to infect the other.

Pink eye prevention

If you want to prevent pink eye infections, here are a few steps you can take:

  1. Use hand disinfectant and wash your hands and your baby’s frequently.
  2. Avoid having your child touch their eyes.
  3. Don’t share your child’s items such as towels, tissues, or pillows.
  4. Wash towels, clothes, and other linens that your child has used in hot water separately from the rest of the family laundry.
  5. Clean surfaces such as countertops, bathrooms, faucets, and phones frequently with antiseptic cleaner.
  6. If your little one is prone to allergic conjunctivitis, keep doors and windows closed when pollen is heavy. To avoid allergy triggers at home, vacuum frequently to avoid dust accumulation.

If you think your child has pink eye, contact your doctor to identify the cause and treat it accordingly. If your little one’s eyes don’t improve 3-4 days after treatment or after a week when left untreated, you should visit your doctor. To keep this kind of infection from spreading, you’ll need to wash your hands every time you finish caring for your baby’s eyes. Don’t forget to keep their towels, clothing, and bedding separate from everyone else’s, and wash these items regularly!

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