It's a scenario many of us have experienced: Your child wakes up in the morning with one or both eyes crusted shut. When you coax the eye open, you see that the part that should be white is pink and teary. A trip to the pediatrician confirms it: Your child has pinkeye.
Pinkeye, known in medical terms as conjunctivitis, is a common condition in which the thin, clear lining inside the eyelid and on the white of the eye becomes inflamed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It's most often caused by bacteria, viruses, or allergens. How your child's pinkeye is treated will depend on what is causing it.
"Pinkeye is usually a virus that has to run its course," says David L. Rogers, M.D., clinical assistant professor of ophthalmology at The Ohio State University, director of research in the department of ophthalmology at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and a member of the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus (AAPOS). Most cases of viral conjunctivitis clear up in about seven to 14 days without any treatment. In some cases though, it can take two to three weeks or longer to go away.
If your child has bacterial conjunctivitis, his doctor will probably prescribe an antibiotic in the form of eye drops or eye ointment. You can expect the infection to clear up within several days. In some cases, mild bacterial conjunctivitis may improve on its own without antibiotics, says the CDC, but antibiotics can help speed up recovery and lower the odds of spreading the infection to others. If your child's doctor prescribes antibiotics, be sure that your child finishes the course, even if his symptoms go away sooner.
This type of conjunctivitis typically gets better when the offending allergen (say, pollen, dust mites, or animal dander) is removed, according to the CDC. If your child has allergic conjunctivitis, his doctor may recommend allergy medications and/or eye drops.
Preventing the Spread
Cases of pinkeye that are caused by bacterial or viral infections are contagious. To help keep the infection from spreading to the rest of your household, make sure everyone is good about washing their hands, discourage your child from touching his eyes, and don't let your infected child share linens such as washcloths, towels, or pillows with anyone else in the family.
Eye Drops Made Easy
Some kids don't mind getting eye drops. Others dislike it so much that getting a dose in your child's eye can be a real struggle. If giving eye drops is a headache in your house, try these tips from Dr. Rogers:
- Give them while your child is sleeping, when possible. "If you give your child his eye drops after he falls asleep at night and again before he wakes up in the morning, that's two doses you can do pretty conveniently," he says.
- Put the drops in with your child's eye closed--really. Have your child lie down with his eyes closed. Put a drop in the inside corner of the eye (the corner near the nose). "Eventually, he will open his eye and the drop will go in," says Dr. Rogers.
- Just do it. Sometimes you just have to hold the eye open and drop the medicine in. It can be helpful to have another adult help that way one of you can hold the eye open and reassure the child and the other can administer the eye drop, says the American Academy of Pediatrics.
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