You wake your child one morning and you see a crusty eye, matted shut with mucus. Oh no, could it be pink eye? What should you do? First, place a clean, wet, warm washcloth on the eye. It will help to moisten the secretions and allow your child to open the crusted eye. Next, call your pediatric healthcare provider for an appointment. Finally, call the daycare and let them know that your child will be absent.
Conjunctivitis or pink eye is an inflammation of the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is the mucous membrane lining of the eye and eyelids. Conjunctivitis may be caused by allergens, chemicals, viruses, or bacteria. Symptoms may include a pink or red color in the white of the eyes (the sclera). There may be puffiness or swelling along the edge of the eyelids. There may be eye watering, itching, burning, discomfort, crusting, and discharge of mucus or pus.
It is important for you to see your pediatric healthcare provider to obtain an accurate diagnosis for your child’s conjunctivitis. Be sure to provide your child’s symptoms to your pediatric healthcare provider. An accurate diagnosis is important to ensure appropriate treatment, as there are several types of conjunctivitis.
Allergic conjunctivitis is a result of allergens such as pollen, mold, or pet dander. This usually affects both eyes. Puffiness and itching are the trademark symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis. This may accompany other allergy symptoms such as sneezing, itchy nose, and scratchy throat. Allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious. Treatment includes avoiding the allergen(s). Environmental controls such as keeping windows closed in the home and car, showering before bedtime, and keeping pets out of the bedrooms may be helpful. Your pediatric healthcare provider may recommend allergy medications or certain eye drops for relief.
Chemical conjunctivitis is caused by chemical irritation, such as smoke, dust, fumes, or other chemicals. This can produce watery, reddened eyes. The patient may describe irritation or burning. Swimming with open eyes in a chlorine pool may cause a chemical conjunctivitis, as can sitting around a campfire. Chemical conjunctivitis is not contagious. Avoiding the source of irritation usually resolves the problem, but if the irritation persists, contact your pediatric healthcare provider.
Viral conjunctivitis is caused by cold or flu viruses, such as adenoviruses or influenza. This usually begins with cold symptoms such as runny nose or cough. The eyes tend to water. This generally starts in one eye but spreads to the other eye. The cold or flu virus makes the patient contagious. Viral conjunctivitis tends to be mild, and most cases resolve spontaneously within 7-10 days without treatment. If your child is worsening or not improving, see your pediatric healthcare provider.
Bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria in the eye. Bacteria that causes conjunctivitis include Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae, and Moraxella catarrhalis. This may occur only in one eye or in both eyes. There tends to be more crusting, mucus, and pus with bacterial conjunctivitis. You may see crusting in the eye lashes. The lids may stick together. This can sometimes accompany an ear infection (conjunctivitis otitis syndrome). Bacterial conjunctivitis is contagious.
See your pediatric healthcare provider as, although it may self-resolve, antibiotics can improve symptoms, shorten the length of infection, decrease spread, and reduce the risk of complications. Your pediatric healthcare provider may prescribe an eye ointment, an eye drop, or an oral antibiotic. Always complete the course of treatment as directed.