Does your child have pink, itchy, or watery eyes? He may have conjunctivitis. Conjunctivitis, better known as “pinkeye”, may sound a bit scary but it’s actually the most common eye infection among children. Pinkeye 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 his eyelids or some swelling.

One thing you should be aware of is that not all pinkeye 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. However, the good news is that it usually clears up in a week or so without treatment. Remember to gently wash your baby’s eyes with warm water and rub any dried discharge. If your baby’s eyes do not improve after a week, let your doctor know.
  • Bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria and is also contagious. If untreated, it can cause serious damage to the eyes. Doctors usually prescribe antibiotic drops for you to use on your baby’s eyes for about a week.
    • 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 he opens his eyes, the medicine will go inside.
  • 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 pinkeye from allergies or chemical irritants is not contagious, bacterial and viral pinkeye are very contagious –they can be easily transmitted by coughing, sneezing, and by hand-eye contact.

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

  • Viral conjunctivitis – You will notice your little one has sensitivity to the light as well as watery and itchy eyes. It’s also mostly accompanied by cold symptoms. Remember that this type 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 lookout for is that, unlike allergic conjunctivitis where both eyes are affected; viral and bacterial conjunctivitis infect only one eye at first and take several days to infect the other.

If you want to prevent pinkeye infection, here are a few of steps you can take:

  1. Use hand disinfectant and wash your hands and your baby’s frequently.
  2. Avoid having your child touch his eyes.
  3. Don’t share your child’s personal 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 pinkeye, contact your doctor to identify the cause and treat it accordingly. If his pinkeye does not improve 3-4 days after treatment or after a week when left untreated, you should pay your doctor a visit. 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 his towels, clothing, and bedding separate from everyone else’s, and wash these items regularly!

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