Pink eye: every parent dreads it. As you scramble to make lunches for school, pour coffee in your to-go cup, and shout one more time for your youngest to come eat breakfast, your daughter shows up in the kitchen with her usual messy hair but something else quite unusual: her eyes are practically pasted shut with a crusty substance. As you grab a damp paper towel to wipe her eyes and go in for closer inspection, you realize it’s that nasty pink eye going around school. Of course, your first thought is likely “eek, pink eye!” Stay calm! Here are some important tips on knowing what the symptoms are, what causes it, and how it can be treated if it shows up, wreaking havoc on your household.
The good news is pink eye, also called conjunctivitis, is one of the most treatable eye conditions that children can get. Adults can also catch pink eye, but often are more diligent about preventative measures so it doesn’t spread as rapidly. It’s a common condition; an inflammation of the conjunctiva which is the thin, clear tissue lining the inside of the eyelid as well as the white part of the eyeball. Inflammation makes blood vessels more visible, giving the eye a “pinkish” color. Eyes also become itchy, and sometimes there’s a white, yellow, or greenish discharge that accompanies crusting of the eyelashes and eyelids.
The CDC cites that there are four different causes of pink eye: viruses, allergens, bacteria, and other irritants (like pool chlorine). It may be hard to know exactly what has caused the pink eye in your child because some symptoms vary, no matter the cause. Other symptoms may include increased tears, swelling of the eyes, and increased sensitivity to light along with the common itching and burning signs indicating that something is wrong.
Luckily, most cases of pink eye are mild and can improve on their own. With that said, it’s important to notify your pediatrician that you suspect your child has pink eye and schedule an appointment. Because pink eye is extremely contagious, it’s important to seek medical attention to find out what kind of pink eye your child may have. There are several types of pink eye, and the treatments may vary:
Viral Conjunctivitis. Although generally mild, viral conjunctivitis can take 1-3 weeks to clear up. The use of artificial tears and cold packs can be used. If the pink eye is viral, antiviral medication does not improve the condition.
Bacterial Conjunctivitis. In the case of bacterial conjunctivitis, antibiotics can indeed shorten the illness and reduce the spreading of the infection. Usually eye drops or lotion are used along with artificial tears and cold packs to alleviate any discomfort.
Allergic Conjunctivitis. When the symptoms of pink eye are caused by an allergy, once the allergen is removed the symptoms will improve and likely disappear completely. Conjunctivitis caused by allergies has different treatment options, so it’s worthwhile to discuss the symptoms and treatments with your pediatrician.
Among school-aged children, pink eye caused by a virus can spread easily. Children share Crayons and work spaces, can rub their “itchy” eyes and disregard washing hands regularly because they are focused on play. There are simple ways to reduce the spread of pink eye: wash hands often, avoid rubbing and touching eyes, and avoid sharing eye make-up or sunglasses. Secondary infections caused by a virus or bacterial infection can happen, so if the pink eye doesn’t improve after treatment or gets worse over time, contact your physician.
The Association of Childcare Physicians can help you determine the best route to take if you have a child with pink eye. Dr. Kellow and Dr. Shaw are happy to discuss your concerns and figure out what has caused the conjunctivitis, along with available treatment options. Our professional office staff is here for you, and don’t forget we also offer “Meet and Greet” appointments if you or someone you know is looking for a new pediatric physician. Our number is 618-235-2111 and you can also learn more about our team at https://childcarephysicians.com/.