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Pinkeye: 10 Things You Need to Know

Pinkeye officially wins the “Bug o’ the Week” award in my practice. Strep throat and a few H1N1 flu cases come in a close 2nd and 3rd.

If your child wakes up with his eyelashes caked over with goop or has an intensely red eye, this blog post’s for you!

Here are 10 things you might not know about pinkeye:

  1. The official name for pinkeye is conjunctivitis. Conjunctivitis simply means irritation of the tissue surrounding the eyeball.
  2. There are actually 4 types of pinkeye, and only 2 types are contagious.
  3. Allergies can cause the eyes to be red and watery. That’s called allergic conjunctivitis. Treatment includes over-the-counter antihistamines (like Benadryl or Zyrtec) or prescription allergy eyedrops.
  4. Exposures to chemicals (strong vapors/solutions) can also cause a non-contagious conjunctivitis. Staying away from the irritant and using warm compresses give relief.
  5. The types of pinkeye that are contagious are caused by either a virus or bacteria.
  6. If the pinkeye is caused by a virus (usually adenovirus), the only treatment is time! And yes, your child is VERY contagious until it clears up. (Sorry!)
  7. If the pinkeye is caused by a bacterial infection, it is treated with either antibiotic eye drops or oral antibiotics (if there is a sinus infection and/or ear infection accompanying the pinkeye). Your child is contagious until he has been on antibiotic drops or by mouth for 24 hours.
  8. If your child is over two years of age, he most likely has viral pinkeye. Viral pinkeye usually causes watery eye discharge and a sensation that there is something gritty in the eye. It can also be associated with a sore throat (caused by the same virus – which means, no antibiotics to treat it).
  9. If your child is under age two, he has a better chance of having bacterial pinkeye. Bacterial pink eye usually causes a goopier eye discharge that recollects after you wipe it away. About 30% of kids under age two will have bacterial pinkeye in addition to a sinus or ear infection. That means, you should always see your child’s doc to check it out.
  10. Pinkeye is spread by cough and nose droplets, direct contact with the eye discharge, and places where someone has left those germs and then you touch the same place (like a hand towel, doorknob or computer keyboard).

So, if your child gets diagnosed with pinkeye, what’s the best way to avoid the whole house coming down with it? If your child is old enough to follow directions, tell him to avoid touching his eyes. If they are super itchy and he must rub them, use a disposable facial tissue and then wash his hands. Of course, he gets a separate hand towel or a paper towel to dry his hands afterwards.

The rest of the house should avoid touching their mouths, noses and eyes (it’s a good idea to get into this habit, anyway). And, wash hands often. The incubation period is about 2-14 days before the next person comes down with it – so if you make it pinkeye free for more than two weeks, you are in the clear!

- Ari Brown, MD, FAAP

Comment on this blog post, ask questions, and talk with other parents on the Parenting Exchange.


The opinions expressed in WebMD Second Opinion are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. Second Opinion are... Expand


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