Conjunctivitis is inflammation of the lining of the eye over the eyeball and inside the eyelids.
Infection by bacteria or a virus can cause conjunctivitis. Infection happens easily, especially if the eye is already irritated. Sometimes children might develop conjunctivitis as part of a cold.
Viral conjunctivitis is very contagious, but bacterial conjunctivitis isn’t as contagious.
Conjunctivitis can also be caused by an allergic reaction. Allergic conjunctivitis isn’t contagious.
Conjunctivitis is very common.
The whites of your child’s eye will be red. The eye will also be watery, sore or itchy. Sometimes there’ll be a yellow or green sticky discharge in your child’s eye, which makes the lids stick together after your child has been asleep. The skin around the eyes might look puffy.
In bacterial or viral conjunctivitis, one or both eyes might be affected.
In allergic conjunctivitis, both your child’s eyes will feel itchy and watery. Your child might also have hay fever symptoms, like an itchy nose and sneezing.
Does your child need to see a doctor about conjunctivitis?
It’s a good idea to see your GP whenever you think your child has an eye infection.
You should definitely take your child to the GP if the following happens:
- The infection doesn’t clear up after 3-4 days, despite treatment.
- The skin around your child’s eye or eyelid becomes swollen and painful.
- Your child has problems with vision.
- Your child also has a fever, isn’t feeding well or doesn’t have much energy.
Start by keeping your child’s eye clean. Wash the eye gently several times a day with cotton wool soaked in warm water. Fresh water from a tap is OK to use. You don’t need to boil or add salt to the water.
Your GP will let you know about the right treatment for your child’s conjunctivitis. If the GP thinks the infection is caused by bacteria, the GP might suggest doing an eye swab to find out what bacteria it is.
The GP might prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointment for several days. It can sometimes be tricky to get these into and around your child’s eye. It might be good to get some help with this. Your GP or child and family health nurse might have some tips to make it easier too.
It’s important to keep giving your child the medication for several days after the symptoms have cleared up.
If your child has allergic conjunctivitis, your doctor might recommend antihistamine eye drops. Your child might also have some tests to find out what their allergic trigger is. If possible, your child should avoid allergic triggers in the future.
To stop the spread of viral or bacterial conjunctivitis, always wash your hands after touching your child’s eyes, and give your child a separate towel to use. Wash your child’s hands often, and try to stop your child from rubbing their eyes. Keep your child home from child care, preschool or school until the eye discharge has cleared up completely.