Eye Infections in Kids and Toddlers: A Parent's Guide
When your child wakes up with itchy, red, or crusty eyes, you'd probably do just about anything to ease their suffering. Eye infections can be uncomfortable—and also extremely contagious. The key to treating symptoms is figure out what's causing them, whether it's pinkeye, an allergic reaction, or a bacterial infection.
Keep reading for our guide to eye infections in kids and toddlers. We break down common symptoms, the causes of eye infections, and effective treatment options. You'll be ready the next time your little one wakes up with yucky eyes!
Eye Infection Symptoms in Kids and Toddlers
Though there are different types of eye infections in kids and toddlers, the symptoms are very similar among them. Norman Shedlo, O.D., an optometrist with the Eyecare Center of Maryland in Rockville, says parents can expect some of the following eye infection symptoms.
- Swelling of the white part of the eye, or conjunctiva
- Significant redness
- A greenish, goopy discharge
- Eyelid swelling
- Pain or discomfort
- Sensitivity to light
What Causes Eye Infections?
Conjunctivitis is the basic term used for an eye infection, including those in kids and toddlers. There are three main causes of conjunctivitis: viral, bacterial, and allergic. Below, we outline each of the three eye infection causes so you can figure out which your child may be dealing with.
Most kids will come down with the common childhood malady often referred to as "pinkeye" at some point. This is usually nothing more than a viral strain of conjunctivitis, and it's the most contagious type of the infection. Viral conjunctivitis can quickly spread through a classroom, daycare, or camp, so kids should stay home if they've got the following eye infection symptoms: itchy, swollen red eyes (it can affect both eyes simultaneously or just one) with watery discharge. Sometimes pinkeye occurs with symptoms of a respiratory infection, like runny nose or sore throat, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Kids can get bacterial conjunctivitis when a strain of bacterium enters their eye. This can happen during childbirth (if it's passed from the mother's birth canal to the baby), or through contact with bacteria from an infected person or surface. Common bacterial conjunctivitis symptoms include eye pain, redness, and a goopy discharge that causes the eyes to stick together. It can be accompanied by an ear infection or respiratory infection. "Most cases of bacterial conjunctivitis go away in a few days, but a prescription eye drop can be used in more severe cases," says Dr. Shedlo.
Allergic, or vernal, conjunctivitis is an allergic condition of the ocular surface, says Yuna Rapoport, M.D., M.P.H., an ophthalmologist with Manhattan Eye in New York City. "Usually kids who have other allergic issues or asthma can have this as well. The seasons (especially springtime) trigger this type of eye infection in kids." Other symptoms include itching, tearing, and swelling of the eyes.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a sty can form when the eyelid's oil glands become infected, and you can usually blame the bacterium staphylococcus. You'll know your little one has a sty on their eye if you see a small, reddened bump along the edge of their eyelid. The area will likely be very tender, which can cause irritability in young children. The good news, though, is that sties almost always resolve on their own in a day or two.
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Eye Infection Treatment
Most eye infections in kids and babies will resolve on their own with time. But it's hard to see your little one suffering, so we've included expert guidance on how to treat eye infections in kids if the situation isn't getting better as quickly as you'd like.
Viral Conjunctivitis: "There is no antiviral medication for viral pink eye, but most cases will resolve easily on their own," says Dr. Rapoport. "I recommend using drops of artificial tears and cool compresses. For severe cases, a steroid drop is recommended, and if membranes form in severe cases, these should be removed by a doctor at the microscope. These reform very quickly so if membranes form, a child should be seen daily until the membranes are gone."
Bacterial Conjunctivitis: If your child's eye issues are determined to be bacterial in nature, your pediatrician can prescribe an antibiotic eye drop to help clear the redness and inflammation.