My Child Has Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye) – What Now?

Pink Eye In Kids

Pink Eye In Kids

Conjunctivitis (also known as pink eye/red eye) is when the conjunctiva – A delicate membrane that lines the eyelid and covers the eyeball becomes inflamed. It is a very common disease which can affect one or both eyes and may be acute or chronic. Conjunctivitis is easily transmitted to others; especially in close contact settings such as school or day care.

What Causes Conjunctivitis?

Common causes of conjunctivitis are:

  • Viruses
  • Bacteria
  • Allergens
  • Irritants

Viral Conjunctivitis

  • Caused by a viral infection (virus) in the eye e.g. endoviruses
  • Is extremely contagious and can result in very large outbreaks

Bacterial Conjunctivitis

  • Caused by a bacterial infection (bacteria) in the eye
  • May be caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae, Staphylococcus aureus,  Moraxella catarrhalis, Haemophilus influenzae,  or, to a lesser degree, Chlamydia trachomatis and Neisseria gonorrhoeae
  • Is easily transferable
  • Children tend to be more prone to the disease than adults
  • Is more common from December to April

Read More  Clinical features of bacterial conjunctivitis in children

Allergic Conjunctivitis

  • Is caused by the body reacting to allergens like pollens, mold, pet hair, dust mites, cosmetics, medications and others
  • It is not contagious
  • It is more common in people who have allergic conditions like hay fever or asthma etc
  • It is more common in seasons where allergens such as pollen counts are at high levels
  • It is common in many homes due to indoor pollution (smoke, fumes, chemicals, pet hair etc)

Conjunctivitis Caused by Irritants

  • Has many of the same triggers as allergic conjunctivitis
  • It can be triggered by irritants including foreign objects in the eye, such as an eyelash, dust, fumes, smoke or chemicals etc
  • It is not contagious
  • May be caused by contact lenses being dirty or worn too long

What Are The Symptoms Of Conjunctivitis?

Common symptoms may include:

  • Pink or red in the white of the eye/eyes
  • Swelling of the conjunctiva
  • An increase in tear production
  • Feeling like there is a foreign body in the eye/eyes
  • Irritated, itchy and/or burning eye/eyes
  • Discharges of pus or mucus
  • Eyelids and lashes may be crusted over, especially when waking up in the morning
  • Contact lenses that won’t stay in place and/or feel uncomfortable

Specific symptoms of conjunctivitis

Viral Conjunctivitis

  • May start with cold, flu or other respiratory infections
  • Usually starts in one eye and then spreads to the other
  • Generally will have a thin watery discharge (not thick/pussy)

Bacterial Conjunctivitis

  • Usually has a thick, pussy discharge which may stick the eyelids together
  • It is not uncommon to occur with an ear infection

Allergic Conjunctivitis

  • Generally effects both eyes
  • May cause swelling, itching and tearing in the eyes
  • May occur at the same time as allergy symptoms

Conjunctivitis Caused by Irritants

  • Can cause your eyes to water and have a mucus discharge

How Does Conjunctivitis Spread?

The two highly contagious forms of conjunctivitis (viral and bacterial conjunctivitis) are usually spread from person to person by:

  • Close contact like shaking hands or touching
  • Breathing in airborne droplets – the infected person coughs or sneezes without covering their mouth or nose
  • Touching a surface, or any object contaminated with conjunctivitis germs, then touching your eyes (before washing your hands)

What Is The Treatment For Conjunctivitis?

If you have any concerns see your doctor to get a definitive diagnosis on the type of conjunctivitis you have, so the appropriate treatment plan can be prescribed.

Viral conjunctivitis

  • Viral conjunctivitis usually needs no treatment and clears up in one to two weeks without any long term problems, although some cases have been known to take up to three or more weeks
  • If the conjunctivitis is more serious a doctor may prescribe antiviral medication


Antibiotics have no effect on a virus so they will not help with viral conjunctivitis

Bacterial Conjunctivitis

  • Bacterial conjunctivitis may get better without treatment in two to five days and be fully cured in around two weeks
  • If you have severe conjunctivitis or have a weakened immune system your doctor might give you antibiotics to help fight the infection and reduce the risk of complications. These would normally be in the form of eye drops or ointments

Allergic Conjunctivitis

  • The fastest way to treat allergic conjunctivitis is to remove the person from the allergen or remove the allergen from the person
  • Your doctor may also prescribe allergy medications and eye drops such as vasoconstrictors and topical antihistamine to give you some relief

Conjunctivitis Caused By Irritants

  • Remove the irritant e.g. eyelash or remove yourself from the irritant e.g. smoke, dust or fumes etc. You may flush your eyes with clean running water for relief

If you have any concerns at all see your doctor.


If there is an object embedded in the eye it is vitally important to leave it in place and see your doctor, or go to the emergency room/hospital immediately

What You Can Do At Home

  • If you wear contact lenses, TAKE THEM OUT until your optometrist (eye doctor) tells you to start wearing them again
  • You can use over the counter products such as artificial tears, and a cold compress to help with the inflammation and dryness

When You Must See A Doctor

You Must See Your Doctor If You Have Any Of The following:

  • Blurred vision or sensitivity to light (with no improvement when discharge is wiped away)
  • Pain in the eye/eyes
  • Severe redness in the eye/eyes
  • A weak immune system due to things like HIV/Aids, cancer treatments, certain medications etc
  • If your newborn has symptoms of conjunctivitis it is important to see your doctor as soon as possible

Read More Symptoms of Newborn Conjunctivitis

How To Prevent The Spread Of Conjunctivitis

Both viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are extremely contagious, but there are things we can do to stop the spread.

If You Have Conjunctivitis:

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water, or an alcohol based hand cleaner. Especially if you have been touching the infected eye/eyes, for example, when applying drops or ointment
  • Try not to touch or rub your eyes, this can make the condition worse and/or spread it
  • Wash your hands – clean the discharge from around your eye/eyes with a fresh cotton ball – dispose of the cotton ball immediately – wash your hands again (do this a few times per day)
  • If the conjunctivitis is in one eye only don’t use the same eye drop dispenser for the infected and non-infected eye
  • Don’t share items such as hair brushes, face makeup, sheets, pillow slips, towels, wash clothes etc. Be sure to wash them in hot water and detergent, and wash your hands after handling them
  • Stop wearing your contact lenses (if you have them) until your doctor allows you to wear them again
  • Clean eye glasses frequently with a tissue or anything disposable. When clean dispose of the tissue and wash your hands
  • Do not use a swimming pool until you are completely cured