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Pink Eye / Conjunctivitis

What Is Pink Eye or 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

Infectious Conjunctivitis Treatment

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

Newborns can have discharge and/or watery eyes that is likely from a blocked tear duct. Bacterial infection is more common in the affected eye and may need local antibiotic treatment.

The doctor will consider trauma or foreign object in the eye when evaluating pink or red eyes. Children usually are not able to provide a complete history. Infants may scratch their cornea or conjunctiva with their sharp fingernails. A careful examination is required.

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

Allergic 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. The best management is to avoid the irritant. Cold compresses to your child's eyes may also help with the itching and swelling.

Your child’s doctor will determine the specific treatment for allergic conjunctivitis 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 02/2020

Reviewed by Kari George, RN

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