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Ask the CPCMG Pediatrician: Pink Eye

My 2 year old has eye drainage. Could this be pink eye?

While the simple answer is “yes” the reality is that pink eye can be a more complicated diagnosis.  Making an accurate diagnosis is the most important factor in making sure that your child receives the proper treatment.

Your child’s eye is irritated and has a pink appearance due to a bacterial infection – this is why people use the layman’s term “pink eye.” The white part of the eye that’s irritated and pink is called the sclera. A very thin membrane covers the sclera and inner eyelid – this is called the conjunctiva. So, an infection or inflammation of the conjunctiva is called conjunctivitis.

There are three common types of conjunctivitis:  Bacterial, Viral and Allergic.

Bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria. These bacteria are very contagious and are passed from your child’s hand to his eye. The bacteria will cause a red eye with a thick greenish-yellow discharge. Often, children with bacterial conjunctivitis will develop symptoms within a few hours and commonly overnight. Toddlers and small children will wake up with their eyes crusted shut, and parents will use warm water to help the eye to open.

Treatment of bacterial conjunctivitis requires topical antibiotic (ophthalmic) eye drops or ointment. Children with bacterial conjunctivitis are usually contagious to parents, siblings, and classmates for 24 hours after starting treatment. Cases of bacterial conjunctivitis will usually not resolve without treatment.

Here’s a neat trip to help your child with eye drops: Have your child lay down flat with his/her eyes closed. Then drop the drops into the “well” of this eye near his or her nose. Ask your child to open his or her eyes and the drops will then be sucked into the eyes. This is an effective, “non-scary” approach to get eye drops effectively into your child’s eyes – and it helps prevent the infection from spreading!

Viral conjunctivitis is caused by a viral infection. With a viral infection, the conjunctiva does seem to be pink. But often, though not always, the drainage from the eye is more clear. Often, children look like they are crying.

The good news is that viral conjunctivitis does not require any treatment. Like other viral infections, the infection will resolve on its own with your child’s natural immune system. If needed, warm compresses can be used for comfort.

The third type is allergic conjunctivitis. This infection looks and feels like bacterial and viral conjunctivitis because the conjunctiva looks pink or inflamed. However, the cause is not due to an infection but allergies. Allergy testing is something that you may want to discuss with your CPCMG pediatrician so may be worth an office visit.

The bottom line is that if you’re not sure what type of conjunctivitis your child may have, it is a good idea to consult with your CPCMG pediatrician so you child may be examined and properly diagnosed. For convenience, you may also schedule a CPCMG E-Visit for a consultation. Please log into your MyChart account at any time to schedule an E-Visit.