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Child Has Pink Eye? Here’s How to Treat

child with pink eyeKids are heading back to school, which means pink eye season has officially started! Pink eye breakouts can spread quickly through playgrounds and classrooms.

What should you do if your child comes home with symptoms of pink eye? First, you should determine the cause of the pink eye (read below). Treatment will vary depending on what type of pink eye your child has contracted.

The good news? Pink eye is generally a mild infection and can resolve on its own. Read on to learn the ins and outs of pink eye in children.

What is Pink Eye?

Pink eye (aka conjunctivitis) is an infection of the conjunctiva, a clear membrane that covers the white part of the eye. Although it may look scary, pink eye usually resolves on its own.

Types of Pink Eye

Infectious pink eye

Infectious pink eye is caused by bacteria and viruses. These same bacteria and viruses can also be responsible for sore throats, colds, and other symptoms.

Non-infectious pink eye

Non-infectious pink eye can be caused by allergies or eye irritants. Eye irritants include chemicals in pools, air pollution, smoke, etc.

Pink Eye Symptoms

Children with conjunctivitis may have pink eyes as well as eye discomfort, discharge from the eye, swollen eyelids, sensitivity to bright light, and swelling of the conjunctiva.

How Long is Pink Eye Contagious For?

Bacterial pink eye is contagious at the start of symptoms and continues as long as there is discharge coming out of the eye. If a child has started antibiotics to treat their pink eye, they will be contagious until 24 hours after the antibiotics were started.

Viral pink eye is actually contagious even before symptoms arise. It is contagious as long as the symptoms last.

Infectious pink eye can be spread multiple ways. These include:

  • Rubbing the infected eye and then touching a surface
  • Sharing towels or other items such as clothing, glasses & makeup
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing

Non-infectious forms of pink eye are not contagious (allergies, eye irritants).

Pink Eye Treatment

Pink eye caused by a virus will generally resolve on its own. If your child’s pink eye is caused by bacteria, a doctor can prescribe antibiotic drops or ointment.

Ibuprofen and acetaminophen can help to relieve symptoms. Cold and warm compresses can also alleviate the discomfort that your child is experiencing.

Parents can help to clean the discharge from their child’s eye with a cotton ball and warm water. It is important to immediately throw away the cotton ball, and use one per eye (pink eye can spread from eye to eye).

If your child wears contacts, we generally recommend that they wear glasses until the pink eye resolves.

If your child’s pink eye persists after 2-3 days of at home treatment, you should take your child to a doctor.