Conjunctivitis in Children

Conjunctivitis in Children

Conjunctivitis or “pinkeye” is an irritation or inflammation of the conjunctiva which is the covering that lines the inside of the eyelids and the whites of the eyes.

What causes conjunctivitis?

There are 3 major causes:

  • Infectious conjunctivitis(probably the most common): Caused by a bacterial or viral infection.
  • Allergic conjunctivitis: Due to airborne pollen or dust or something put into the eye, such as contact lens solutions.
  • Chemical conjunctivitis: Many chemicals like sprays, perfumes, deodorants, and household cleaners can irritate the conjunctiva.

What are the symptoms of conjunctivitis?

  • Red or pink eye
  • Itchiness or irritation(like feeling “sand” in the eye)
  • Watery eyes
  • Eye pain
  • A thick, sticky, yellowish discharge. (In viral conjunctivitis, the discharge is usually clear)

Is infectious conjunctivitis contagious?

YES. Many types of bacteria and viruses can cause conjunctivitis in children. These germs can pass from person to person through contact with infected body fluids such as eye discharge and can also spread on a child’s hands if he/she rubs or wipes his/her infected eyes. It is essential that children do not share towels or washcloths and that they wash before and after meals or touch their facial area. The same goes for parents or caretakers after they have contacted the facial or eye area of a child with infectious conjunctivitis.

How is conjunctivitis treated?

The treatment depends on the cause:

Bacterial conjunctivitis is treated with antibiotics, either eye drops or ointment. With certain types of bacteria, oral antibiotics may be needed. Gentle eye compresses using clean cotton balls or washcloths soaked in warm water may help, especially before applying any prescribed antibiotic drops or ointment. Ask your doctor when your child can return to school.

Viral conjunctivitis cannot be treated with antibiotics effectively, but it usually clears up on its own after a few days. Viral conjunctivitis is also contagious, so follow your doctor’s advice about when your child can return to school. Warm compresses may help too.

Allergic conjunctivitis is usually treated with oral antihistamines and decongestants or with antihistamine eye drops. Cold compresses may also help.

When to seek medical attention

Call your doctor if your child has any of the following symptoms:

  • Unusually red, itchy, or watery eyes
  • Puffy or swollen eyes
  • Thick, sticky, yellowish discharge from the eyes
  • Eyelids that look crusty or stick together when your child awakens
  • Your child complains that the vision is not normal
  • The area under the lower eyelid is red or swollen


Chemical conjunctivitis may be a medical emergency, depending on the chemical involved. If your child has gotten a chemical in the eyes, flush the area gently with cool, running water for at least 15 minutes and seek medical attention immediately.

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Pediatrician DR.PAUL Roumeliotis is certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. The information provided above is designed to be an educational aid only. It is not intended to replace the advice and care of your child’s physician, nor is it intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. If you suspect that your child has a medical condition always consult a physician.