Pinkeye, also known as conjunctivitis, is an inflammation of the outer layer of the eye that causes the eye to appear red or pink. The highly contagious disease affects adults as well as children but occurs more frequently in schoolchildren because of the increased risk of exposure in school. As a parent, it's important to educate yourself about pinkeye so you will know if your child has it and what to do about it.
Excessive watering and a light discharge from one of the eyes are typical signs of viral conjunctivitis. Because it's a virus, it cannot be treated with antibiotics and you have to wait until it clears up on its own, which can take from a few days to a few weeks. It is contagious until it clears up completely.
Bacterial conjunctivitis usually affects both eyes and has a green discharge. It is also contagious, but it can be treated with antibiotics. Your child is no longer contagious after she has been on antibiotics for 24 hours.
Allergic conjunctivitis is caused by allergens such as pollen and irritants including strong perfumes, candles, smoke or dust. It causes itchiness and redness in the eyes and may be accompanied by a runny or stuffy nose. This type of conjunctivitis is not contagious and clears up on its own over time. Eyedrops can help relieve the symptoms, as can minimizing exposure to irritants.
How Does It Spread?
Viral and bacterial pinkeye spread from one person to another through direct physical contact with the eye or through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes without covering his mouth or nose. It can also spread if an infected person touches his eye and then transmits the bacteria or virus to another person or a surface such as a counter or doorknob.
Preventing the Spread
Pinkeye spreads rapidly, so it's important to take every possible measure to limit its spread. Encourage your child to wash his hands frequently if he is infected or around someone who is infected, especially after using the bathroom or before eating. Wipe common surfaces such as tables, faucets and counters with disinfectant to limit the bacteria until the conjunctivitis clears up completely in the infected person.