Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva of the eye. The conjunctiva is the inner membrane of the eyelids and covers the eyeball. Conjunctivitis is also known as “pink eye” because the eye looks pink or red. In children, the condition is often grouped into either newborn conjunctivitis or childhood conjunctivitis. There are different causes and treatments for each group.

Types of newborn conjunctivitis include:

  • Chemical conjunctivitis. a rare condition caused by irritation from eye drops that are given to newborn babies to help prevent bacterial infection. Eyes are red and inflamed, starting a few hours after the drops have been placed in the eye. The symptoms last about 2 to 4 days. This type of conjunctivitis often doesn’t need treatment.
  • Gonococcal conjunctivitis. Which is caused by bacteria called N. gonorrhea. A newborn baby can pick up this type of bacteria during vaginal birth from an infected
    mother. This severe type of conjunctivitis may be prevented with the use of eye drops in newborns at birth. The condition causes eyes that are red, with swelling and thick fluid leaking from the eyelids. Symptoms usually start about 2 to 5 days after birth. Treatment often includes IV antibiotics.
  • Inclusion conjunctivitis. This is the most common type of bacterial infection. It is caused by infection with Chlamydia trachomatis. The symptoms include red eyes, swollen eyelids, and fluid leaking from the eyelids. Symptoms usually start 5 to 14 days after birth. Treatment often includes antibiotics taken by mouth (oral).
  • Infection from other bacteria. After the first week of life, other bacteria may be the cause of conjunctivitis in a newborn. The eyes may be red and swollen with drainage. Treatment depends on type of bacteria that caused the infection. Treatment often will include antibiotic drops or ointments to the eye, warm compresses to the eye, and correct hygiene when touching the infected eyes.

Childhood conjunctivitis is a swelling of the conjunctiva and may include an infection. It is a very common problem in children. Large outbreaks of conjunctivitis are often seen in daycare settings or schools. The most common causes of childhood conjunctivitis are:

  • Bacteria
  • Viruses, including the herpes virus
  • Allergies

If the condition is caused by infection, it’s important to know that the infection can spread from one eye to the other by touching the affected eye or fluid from the eye. The infection can spread to other people. Fluid from the eye is still contagious for 24 to 48 hours after starting treatment.

What causes conjunctivitis in a child?

Different causes of conjunctivitis. The most common causes are:

Bacteria such as:

  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Haemophilus influenza
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae
  • Neisseria gonorrhea
  • Chlamydia trachomatis
  • Chemicals in newborn eye drops
  • Allergies

Risk for conjunctivitis?

A child who has had contact with any of the below are at risk for the condition:

  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Haemophilus influenza
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae
  • Neisseria gonorrhea
  • Chlamydia trachomatis
  • Adenoviruses
  • Herpes virus
  • Chemicals in newborn eye drops

Symptoms of conjunctivitis in a child?

Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each child :

  • Itchy, irritated eyes
  • Swelling of the eyelids
  • Redness of the conjunctiva
  • Mild pain when the child looks at a light
  • Burning in eyes
  • Eyelids stuck together in the morning
  • Clear, thin fluid leaking from the eyes, most often from a virus or allergies
  • Sneezing and runny nose, most often from allergies
  • Stringy discharge from the eyes, most often from allergies
  • Thick, green drainage, most often from a bacterial infection
  • Ear infection, most often from a bacterial infection
  • Lesion on eyelids with a crusty appearance, most often from a herpes infection

The symptoms of conjunctivitis can be like other health conditions.

How is conjunctivitis diagnosed in a child?

The healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. He or she may also ask about your family’s health history. He or she will give your child a physical exam. In some cases, a sample of the fluid leaking from the eye may be tested to help confirm the cause of the infection.

How is conjunctivitis treated in a child?

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on the cause of the condition, for example:

  • Bacterial infection. Treated with antibiotic eye drops.
  • Viral infection. Viral conjunctivitis usually doesn’t need treatment. In some cases, antibiotic eye drops may be used to help prevent a secondary infection.
  • Allergic reaction. The allergies may be treated oral medicines or eye drops.
  • Herpes infection. Your child may need to see an eye doctor (ophthalmologist). Your child may be treated with both oral medicine and eye drops.

If the condition is caused by an infection, it’s important to know that the infection can spread from one eye to the other by touching the affected eye or fluid from the eye. The infection can also spread to other people. Fluid from the eye is still contagious for 24 to 48 hours after starting treatment.

To help prevent spread of the infection, wash your hands often when caring for your child. Make sure your child doesn’t touch his or her eyes. Have your child wash his or her hands often.

Complications of conjunctivitis:

Conjunctivitis caused by herpes is a more serious infection. Untreated that leads to scarring of the eye and vision loss.

Key points about conjunctivitis in children

  • Conjunctivitis is inflammation of the conjunctiva of the eye.
  • In children, the condition is often grouped into either newborn conjunctivitis or
    childhood conjunctivitis.
  • Symptoms include red, swollen, burning, irritated eyes
  • Treatment will depend on the cause of the condition and may include oral medicine and eye drops.
  • If the condition is caused by an infection, it’s important to know that the infection can spread from one eye to the other by touching the affected eye or fluid from the eye. The infection can also spread to other people. Fluid from the eye is still contagious for 24 to 48 hours after starting treatment.
  • To help prevent spread of the infection, wash your hands often when caring for your child. Make sure your child doesn’t touch his or her eyes. Have your child wash his or her hands often.