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Conjunctivitis, also known as Pink Eye, is an eye infection that occurs commonly in children and adults. As the name suggests, the infection turns the white of the eye, pink or red. When caused by bacteria or viruses, it is very contagious and can spread quickly among the children.
What is Conjunctivitis?
This is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the white part of the eye and the inner membrane of the eyelids caused by an infection or an allergic reaction. The infection can be triggered by bacteria or virus and although it might look bad, it’s usually not serious in most of the babies. When babies contract Conjunctivitis, the blood vessels in the white portion of the eye become inflamed causing it to have a red or pink appearance. It is also accompanied by symptoms of itchiness with a burning and gritty feeling and may also have a discharge.
What Are the Types of Conjunctivitis?
There are four main types of Conjunctivitis:
- Viral: Infection caused by a virus and is accompanied by other symptoms such as cold and cough.
- Bacterial: Caused by bacteria and is characterized by swollen eyelids and thick yellow discharge that cause the eyelids to stick together.
- Allergic: caused by exposure to an allergic substance such as dust, pollen, mites and pets.
- Irritant: Any substance that can irritate the eye and the eyelids such as chlorine in swimming pools and pollutants in the air.
Is Pink Eye Contagious?
A common misconception is that that Pink Eye spreads just by looking at another person who has the infection. It is not true. Pink Eye spreads only when kids come in contact with an infected person.
Conjunctivitis is contagious only when caused by a microorganism, their contagious period ends when the course of medication ends and there are no symptoms present any longer.
Viral Conjunctivitis is extremely contagious and can be caused by the same type of virus that causes the common cold. It is easily spread by air, water and direct contact. One type of viral Conjunctivitis caused by the adenovirus can be contagious for weeks after the first symptoms. They can often cause outbreaks in schools and daycares and remain contagious as long as the symptoms are present.
Bacterial Conjunctivitis is also highly contagious and spreads easily through touch and sharing objects such as toys with another infected child.
Allergic Conjunctivitis is specific to each child and the substances they are allergic to. It does not spread like the bacterial and viral type.
Causes Of Conjunctivitis
Conjunctivitis occurs when the causative microorganism, the allergen or the chemical irritant comes in contact with the eyes. When kids touch their eyes or nose with dirty fingers contaminated with the causative agent, the infection immediately occurs. In case of bacterial and viral infections, it is mainly spread through the following mechanisms:
- Direct Contact: When a child with Conjunctivitis touches or rubs the eyes and then touches another child.
- Indirect Contact: When an object that is contaminated, such as a tissue or a towel, is touched or touches the child’s eye. The same can occur with contaminated toys and objects.
- Droplet: When Conjunctivitis is accompanied by cold, droplets from a sneeze can also spread it.
- Sexually transmitted: Conjunctivitis of these types occur commonly in newborns. If the mother, who has a sexually transmitted disease, had a vaginal birth, the baby can contract Pink Eye.
Common Symptoms of Pink Eye in Kids
Conjunctivitis has clear symptoms that can be seen such as:
- The eye turns pink or red from the inflammation. If it is bacterial, it can be one eye and when viral, it can be in both eyes.
- Swelling of the inside of the eyelids and the thin layer that lines the white of the eyes
- Increased tearing and discharge of pus, that’s greenish yellow (in bacterial infections)
- An urge to rub the eyes and a feeling that there is something stuck in the eye
- Crusting of the eyelashes or the eyelids after sleep, especially in the mornings
- Symptoms of allergy, or cold or other respiratory infection
- Enlargement and tenderness of the lymph nodes in front of the ears which might feel like a small lump when touched
- Sensitivity to light
Diagnosis Of Conjunctivitis
Conjunctivitis can be diagnosed by its symptoms and the paediatrician can discern the exact cause. Since there are other conditions such as hay fever which has similar symptoms, it is important to see the paediatrician as soon as possible.
Treatment depends on the type of Conjunctivitis and the severity of the infection. Sometimes the Pink Eye clears up on its own in a few days.
- Bacterial Pink Eye: Bacterial infections are usually treated with antibiotics that come in the form of eye drops or ointment. It can be applied directly to the eye if the child is co-operative or at the corner of the eye where it can slowly make its way in.
- Viral Pink Eye: Viral Pink Eye has to be left to clear up on its own as there are no antibiotics for it. For comfort, the doctor will prescribe a soothing lubricant and advice to keep the eye clean and apply cool packs.
- Allergic Pink Eye: Allergic Pink Eye is treated with antihistamine eye drops to reduce the inflammation. It’s possible to tell what caused the infection and stay away from it. For example, a tree or shrub in full bloom next to the house in a specific season.
- Good hygiene is the best preventive measure against the spread of Pink Eye. Wash your child’s hands frequently and remind them not to touch their eyes.
- If a family member is infected, request them to stay away from the child as much as possible until the infection subsides. Their clothes, towels and handkerchiefs should be washed separately from the child’s.
- Ensure that at homes or daycare, towels, napkins, pillows, tissues or eye makeup is not shared. It’s best if all members have their own.
- Wash the baby’s clothes, towels and bed linen regularly and dry them thoroughly. On rainy days they can be dried indoors and pressed with an iron to remove the leftover moisture.
- Wash your hands with soap before feeding or touching the baby, especially if you have come home after travelling through the city.
- Use fresh cotton balls separately to clean each eye of the baby to stop the infection from spreading from one eye to the other.
- If you’re aware that your child is allergic to specific pollen or dust or any to other chemical irritants, ensure that you limit or avoid exposure of the child by closing the windows, vacuuming the carpets often etc.
- Pregnant women must be screened and treated for STDs to prevent Pink Eye in newborns
When Should You Call the Doctor?
Conjunctivitis can cause complications in newborns less than a month old. Conjunctivitis most often is due to the underdeveloped tear ducts in newborns, but they can occasionally be serious when caused by an STD from the mother. Call your doctor right away in such an instance.
In children, a doctor should be consulted immediately if:
- The infection doesn’t clear up by 3-4 days, despite treatment
- The child has problems with vision
- The child has fever, isn’t feeding properly and is lethargic
- Skin around the eye or the eyelids is swollen, red and painful
Can Your Kid With Pink Eye Go to Daycare?
It’s best not to send a kid with a Pink Eye to the daycare as the chance of an outbreak is high. Even when the Conjunctivitis is allergic, the daycare’s policy may not allow your child to attend if he has symptoms of an active infection. It is a definite no if your child has viral or bacterial Conjunctivitis.
Although it looks worrying, Pink Eye is not a serious infection in children. With good hygiene and preventive methods, it is possible to reduce the chances of an infection.