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Preventing Conjunctivitis (Pink eye)

Cold and flu season is upon us! Has your child had red, crusty eyes? Has he or she complained of the eyes burning or aching? Did you know that the most common cause of conjunctivitis or “pink eye” is the common cold virus? Kids who have a common cold, or who are exposed to the cold virus, are at higher risk for developing conjunctivitis.

Most commonly, the infection will start in just one eye but may spread to involve the fellow eye within about five days of initial symptoms. Many children with conjunctivitis complain of eye pain or irritation. Often kids with conjunctivitis will wake up with matted eyelashes, and, in some cases, the eyes crusted shut.

Because most cases of conjunctivitis are caused by a virus, there is no need for antibiotic eye drops or gels, because a virus will not respond to antibiotics. Supportive measures for the patient with conjunctivitis are best:

  • Cold compresses for comfort
  • Cleaning the lashes and removing any debris
  • Lubricating eye drops or artificial tears

Note: Avoid any drops that claim to “get the red out.” This is because anti-redness drops contain a chemical that constricts your blood vessels, this is how they get the red out, but your eyes need adequate blood flow – along with all of the nutrients and growth factors in the blood to help clear the infection.

So what can you do to help prevent the spread of conjunctivitis?

  • Try not to touch or rub your eyes. Most cases of conjunctivitis are transmitted through contact with infectious secretions, so touching the eyes can disseminate the virus and pass it on to others.
  • Frequent hand washing is one of the most important things you can do!
  • Avoid sharing towels, pillows, or other objects that come into contact with your child’s eyes. In some cases, it may be necessary to keep your child home from school while the eyes are still pink to prevent the infection from spreading to classmates.

It is very rare for a child to have any permanent effect on their vision after an episode of conjunctivitis. In rare cases, such as herpes virus infection, corneal scarring can occur which may limit vision. Other causes of conjunctivitis, such as bacteria and allergens, although less common, do require more aggressive treatment.

If you suspect that your child has conjunctivitis, and it does not resolve on its own after about 10 days, they should have a complete, dilated eye exam looking for other causes of a red eye or irritated eye. If your child complains of vision loss or decreased vision, if they have tense, swollen eyelids, or if they have purulent discharge from the eye, they should have an eye exam as soon as possible!

Remember, prevention is the key to stopping the spread of pink eye!