Pink Eye / Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is an inflammation of the conjunctiva of the eye. The conjunctiva consists of the membrane that lines the inside of the eye and also a thin membrane that covers the actual eye. Infection may be in one or both eyes.

There are many causes of pink eye, including:

  • Allergies
  • Bacteria
  • Viruses
  • Herpes

It may be hard to tell by exam if the infection is bacterial or viral. Therefore, treatment for bacterial infection with antibiotic drops or ointment may be ordered. Pink eye caused by adenovirus is very contagious; therefore careful hand washing is advised in all cases of conjunctivitis.

In an infant with a watery eye from birth, nasolacrimal duct obstruction is the likely cause. Bacterial infection is more common in the affected eye and may need local antibiotic treatment.

Trauma or a foreign object in the eye should be considered when evaluating pink or red eyes. A complete history may not be available in children. Infants may scratch their cornea or conjunctiva with their sharp fingernails. A careful examination is required.

Contact your child's doctor for advice regarding care of conjunctivitis.

Signs and Symptoms

The following are the most common symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Itchy eyes
  • Watery discharge
  • Swelling of the eyelids
  • Redness of the eyes
  • Stringy discharge from the eyes

The symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis may resemble other medical conditions. Always talk with your child's doctor for a diagnosis.

Allergic Conjunctivitis Diagnosis

Cultures of eye drainage are usually not done for allergic conjunctivitis. A diagnosis of conjunctivitis is usually made based on a complete medical history and physical examination.

Treatment for Allergic Conjunctivitis

There is no cure for allergic conjunctivitis. Avoidance of the irritant is the best management. Cold compresses to your child's eyes may also help with the itching and swelling.

Specific treatment for allergic conjunctivitis will be determined by your child's physician based on:

  • Your child's age, overall health, and medical history
  • Extent of the reaction
  • Your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the reaction
  • Your opinion or preference

Your child's physician may prescribe the following medications to help with the symptoms:

  • Antihistamines -- these help to decrease histamine release which may help to decrease the itchy, watery eyes. Some examples are diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or hydroxyzine (Atarax). These medications may make your child drowsy. 
  • Nonsedating antihistamines -- work similar to antihistamines but without the side effect of making your child drowsy. These might include cetirizine (Zyrtec) or loratadine (Claritin).  
  • Eye drops (to help relieve the itching and redness)

Last Updated 12/2013