Bad news... your kid has pinkeye. At least, it might be pink eye. How can you tell, and what should you do? And is it contagious?
What is pinkeye?
Pinkeye, or conjunctivitis, is the most common cause of red eyes. It’s inflammation of the mucous membrane that covers the front of your eye and lines the inside of your eyelids. Conjunctivitis can be caused by an infection or an irritation, like allergies.
Most of the time pinkeye resolves on its own with little or no treatment, but antibiotics are used in certain cases. Pinkeye can be caused by different things, and can present in different ways.
So, is pinkeye contagious? It depends. Learning more can help you understand what you need to do to treat your pinkeye.
The different types of pinkeye
When a bacterial infection causes redness in your eye, it’s often accompanied by pain and stinging. It can also feel like something is stuck in your eye. You’ll probably notice a mild to moderate amount of discharge — which can be white, yellow, or green — that causes your eyelids to be glued together in the morning or throughout the day.
Wipe away discharge with a clean, warm wash cloth. Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic ointment eye drops. Anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen, may also help with pain and discomfort.
A viral infection that causes pink eye will typically have less pain — mild, if any — but it can be accompanied by itching or a gritty sensation in the eye. You may also notice watery discharge. This kind of viral infection usually starts in one eye and then will move over to your other eye in one to two days.
You may experience other symptoms of a viral infection, such as cough, runny nose, or congestion. Treatment isn’t usually needed for viral conjunctivitis, as most viruses will resolve on their own in 7-10 days. However, your doctor may still prescribe antibiotics or eye drops if he or she is concerned about a possible bacterial infection.
If you have allergies that are causing redness in your eyes, the redness is typically in both eyes at once. You may have painless tearing and intense itching. A stringy, ropy, watery discharge is common. Your best treatment usually involves an antihistamine — think Benadryl for the eye — or steroid eye drops. Oral allergy medications can be prescribed as well.
There’s no specific test to determine the cause of red eyes, so it’s important to see your primary care provider so they can take a good history and perform an exam. There are many possible causes of red eyes. However, in ALL cases, good hygiene and frequent hand washing are critical.
If your children are in school or daycare you may need to check their school policies regarding antibiotics and when they can return to the classroom.