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My Child has Pink Eye! Should I Call a Doctor?

Jun 08, 2016

Summer is upon us, and that means kids are jumping into swimming pools and lakes, going to sleepovers, and generally out and about—all of which makes them more susceptible to picking up eye infections or getting foreign objects in their eyes. All this exposure sometimes leads to a condition called conjunctivitis, better known as "pink eye." This is when one or both eyes look pink or red and may have a discharge. They may burn or itch or just feel really irritated. Sometimes the affected eye's lashes get "crusty."

About three million cases of pink eye are reported in the U.S. every year. According to the National Eye Institute, "Pink eye is one of the most common and treatable eye conditions in children and adults."

It's likely to be highly contagious and it can hurt, but is it a reason to see a doctor? According to Leah Owen, MD, a pediatric specialist at the Moran Eye Center, "If your child is experiencing a vision change or significant discomfort, increasing redness or discharge, has worsening swelling of the eyelids, or is experiencing systemic symptoms such as fever, they should be seen by their primary doctor." In addition, Owen says, "If your child has experienced any chemical or other eye exposure, or had any recent eye trauma, they should be seen by a doctor."

Conjunctivitis can be caused by bacteria, a virus, exposure to chemicals, or allergies, so there are different types of treatment. They can include cool compresses, artificial tears, antibiotics or anti-allergy eye drops. And good hand hygiene is important to stop the spread of the infection to others.

How to Prevent Getting or Spreading Pink Eye

Because viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are highly contagious (allergic is not), you can limit their spread by following these steps:

  • Wash hands often with soap and warm water and wash up immediately if you've touched an affected person's eyes, linens or clothes (for example, when caring for a child who has pink eye). If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • Avoid touching or rubbing your eyes.
  • Wash any discharge from around the eyes several times a day.
  • Don't use the same eye drop dispenser/bottle for infected and non-infected eyes—even for the same person.
  • Avoid sharing articles like towels, blankets and pillowcases.
  • Clean eyeglasses and sunglasses.
  • Clean, store and replace contact lenses as instructed by your eye health professional.
  • Don't share eye makeup, face makeup, makeup brushes, contact lenses or containers, or eyeglasses.