Pinkeye, or conjunctivitis, means just that: Your eye is pink. So, there can be many causes for a pink or reddish eye.
Anything from seasonal allergies to lodged foreign bodies to bacterial and viral infections can cause irritation in a child’s eye.
“Not everything that is pink needs eye drops,” said Dr. Carrie Bohenick, a pediatrician at Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics in Brecksville. “If it’s just one eye and it’s bright red, it may not be bacterial pinkeye. It might be that they scratched their eye or something else happened.”
So, how can parents be sure it’s bacterial or viral pinkeye — the type that’s highly contagious?
A telltale sign is seeing a lot of green or yellow discharge in both eyes. In fact, a child’s eyes could become stuck shut, depending on the amount of discharge they may have.
“It can start in one eye, but it almost always spreads to the other because [children] rub both eyes,” said Dr. Bohenick.
In addition to discharge, most kids experience itchy, watery eyes with the whites of their eyes ranging in various shades of pinks and reds.
Most cases of pinkeye are caused by many of the same bacteria and viruses responsible for kids’ colds, sore throats, and sinus and ear infections. It’s important to see a pediatrician because while some kinds can improve on their own, pinkeye normally requires treatment.
For instance, an antibiotic eye drop can be prescribed for bacterial pinkeye and kids should see an improvement within 24 to 48 hours.
“While they’re having lots of discharge from their eye, they’re contagious,” said Dr. Bohenick. “Anything that has the discharge on it, if it gets near your eye, then you can get it, too.”
Washing your hands is a simple way to help stop the spread to other children. It’s also a good idea to frequently clean pillow cases, wash cloths, cushions or anything else that comes into contact with a child’s eyes.
In addition, if your child has pinkeye, try to keep them from rubbing their eyes.
“Ideally, kids should stay home until the discharge has subsided,” Dr. Bohenick said. “But for practicality purposes, many day cares and schools allow kids to return after they’ve been on the medicine for 24 hours.”