Pink eye affects millions of people in the United States every year, many of them children. In fact, pink eye (or conjunctivitis) is the most common eye problem among kids, responsible for 3 million missed days of school every year. Infectious conjunctivitis is highly contagious, and without prompt treatment, it can cause other issues too.
The problem is, infectious conjunctivitis isn’t the only problem that causes pinkish eyes — allergies and irritants (like chlorine from pools) are other common causes. These two other types of conjunctivitis — allergic conjunctivitis and irritant conjunctivitis — are not contagious and typically resolve on their own.
At ABC Children’s Eye Specialists, our team wants parents in Phoenix and Mesa, Arizona, to learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of pink eye so they can make sure their kids receive treatment right away. Here’s what you should know about conjunctivitis, including an overview of its common symptoms.
Why pink eye happens
Infectious conjunctivitis — the kind that spreads from one person to another — is caused by germs (bacteria and viruses). Most often, the eye becomes infected when your child touches an infected surface and then rubs one of their eyes.
Germs that get into your child’s eye irritate and infect the conjunctiva, the clear mucous membrane that covers the front of the eye and the inside of the eyelid. The infection causes the tiny blood vessels in the eye to dilate, resulting in the characteristic pink color.
Because pink eye is so contagious, it can rapidly spread through a classroom or group of friends. Most cases of pink eye aren’t serious, but they still need to be treated by an eye doctor to help your child feel better and prevent the infection from getting worse.
Conjunctivitis can happen in one or both eyes. In addition to the pink appearance of your child’s eye, conjunctivitis can cause other symptoms that can help you and your eye doctor determine if conjunctivitis is the culprit. These include:
- Itching or burning sensations
- Foreign body sensation or grittiness in the eye
- Discharge from the eye
- Crust along the lashes in the morning
- Excess tearing
While the gritty feeling can be uncomfortable, conjunctivitis typically isn’t painful, nor does it cause blurry vision. If your child has these symptoms, they may have another eye issue, including a different type of infection.
Treating infectious conjunctivitis
Even though pink eye often goes away on its own without causing vision issues, it’s still important to have pink eyes evaluated by our team to rule out more serious issues. Once conjunctivitis is diagnosed, treatment depends on what’s causing the infection.
Pink eye that’s caused by bacteria can be treated with special eye drops to stop the infection. If the infection is caused by a virus, you need to allow the infection to wind down on its own.
Applying warm or cool compresses to your child’s eyes can help relieve some of the itching or burning sensations. You can also help by gently cleaning the rims of your child’s eyelids, especially if your child has discharge from the eye. Lubricating eye drops may also be helpful.
Most cases clear up within a week. During that time, be sure your child washes their hands frequently with soap and warm water, and remind them not to touch or rub their eyes. If your child wears contact lenses, have them wear glasses during the infection, and get rid of the lenses they were wearing when the infection began.
Specialized care for your child’s healthy vision
Childhood is a time of rapid growth and development, and seeing a pediatric ophthalmologist is the best way to know your child’s vision needs are being met. If your child has signs of conjunctivitis or any issues affecting their eyes or their vision, don’t put off treatment.
Book an appointment online or over the phone with ABC Children’s Eye Specialists today.