Pink eye is kind of a layman’s term. The medical term is actually conjunctivitis, which refers to redness or a bloodshot appearance to the white of the eyeball and then the lining of the lower eyelid. In the general pediatrics world, we think about two different kinds of infection that can cause pink eye. There is viral infection and there is bacterial infection. Sometimes with a viral illness there will be one day where a child’s eyes look a little bloodshot but there isn’t really a lot of drainage, they aren’t bothering them much, and then they look normal the next day. If that comes with some cold symptoms, that’s probably just part of the cold virus running its course and doesn’t require any special treatment.
Now, if the eye is having quite a bit of drainage, kind of mucus, thick, yellow, green and discolored, or if the eyes are really bothering the little one. They are rubbing them a lot or the skin around the eye is getting red or puffy, that’s when it sounds more consistent with a bacterial infection and we should probably take a look. Pink eye is considered highly contagious. The common way its spread is by hand-to-hand contact. That’s why daycares and schools like you to see your doctor if they’re worried your child has pink eye. We almost always end up prescribing an antibiotic drop for pink eye because we know 70% of the infectious cases are bacterial.
We use drops to clear that up. If you’re not real careful when putting the drops in, sometimes parents will end up with it on their fingers or the drop bottle will become contaminated and end up with pink eye in the other side as well. Hand-washing is the number one way to prevent pink eye. The first thing, with children who have pink eye, as they touch their own face we tell them to try not to touch their face and if you do, you need to wash your hands right away. That will prevent spreading to the other eye, if it’s only one eye to start with. That will also prevent spread to other people in the same process.
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