If your child’s eyes are red, itchy, and runny, it’s probably “pink eye.” Parents who have children with suspected pink eye inevitably get a phone call from a school nurse or daycare worker requesting their child be removed from school and taken to the doctor. Commonly, schools and daycares will not allow a child with pink eye symptoms to return until the child has been treated with medication for at least 24 hours.
Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, is an inflammation of the white part of the eye and the inner surface of the eyelids. Most episodes of pink eye are due to viruses that cause a mild infection. Pink eye can also be caused by other germs (such as bacteria or fungi) or by allergens such as pollen or dust.
Some of the most common symptoms of pink eye include:
- Redness and burning of the eyes
- Watery or yellowish discharge from the eyes
- Blurred vision or sensitivity to light
- Swelling or tenderness of areas around the eyes
Pink eye caused by bacteria or viruses is contagious, while pink eye caused by allergens is not. Children can get pink eye by touching something an infected person previously touched. Pink eye can also spread when children swim together or share towels.
To help prevent pink eye, one should wash their hands often with warm water and soap. Coughing or sneezing into your elbow, avoiding rubbing your eyes or touching your face can also reduce the chances of catching or spreading infectious pink eye. Children should avoid sharing towels, pillowcases, or toys with other children who appear like they may have pinkeye. Teens and adults should not share or borrow makeup when pink eye is suspected. Individuals wearing contact lenses need to remove their lenses immediately if they develop symptoms of pink eye. Their lenses should be replaced with a fresh pair only after their eye symptoms have fully resolved.
Although pink eye is a fairly common condition and usually causes no long term eye or vision damage, it is important to see a doctor to determine if medical treatment is needed and to confirm that symptoms are not due to a more serious problem. If your doctor is unavailable, Urgent Care of Connecticut is a full service walk-in clinic open 365 days a year.
Cynthia Vanson, MD
Assistant Medical Director, Urgent Care of Connecticut