What is pinkeye?
Pinkeye (conjunctivitis) is an infection that affects the covering of the eyeball and the inside of the eyelid. Usually caused by a virus, it can also be caused by bacteria. Sometimes there are other causes. These include allergies, exposure to chemicals or other irritants, injury or too much rubbing.
What are the symptoms?
Children with pinkeye say there is a scratchy feeling or pain in their eyes and may have a lot of tearing. The whites of the eyes are pink or red. Pus or discharge from the eyes can make the eyelids sticky during sleep.
How does pinkeye spread?
Pinkeye spreads easily:
- Direct contact: when a child with pinkeye touches the discharge from his eye and then touches another child.
- Indirect contact: when an object that is contaminated with the virus, such as a tissue, is touched or touches another person’s eyes.
When pinkeye is caused by a cold, the droplets from a sneeze or cough can also spread it.
How is pinkeye treated?
Treatment depends on the type of pinkeye. That’s why it is important to see a doctor if you think your child has pinkeye.
Purulent pinkeye, with a pink or red eyeball, white or yellow discharge, sticky or red eyelids and eye pain, is usually caused by bacteria. It’s treated with antibiotics (eye drops or ointment), which stop the illness from spreading to others.
Non-purulent pinkeye is where the eyeball is pink or red but discharge is clear or watery, with only mild or no pain. It’s usually caused by a virus or other reason (see above). Antibiotics will not work for this type of pinkeye.
What can parents do?
- Call your doctor if you think your baby or child has pinkeye. It’s not easy to know if a bacteria or a virus has caused the infection. Your doctor will know if your child needs an antibiotic.
- When wiping tears or discharge from your child’s eyes, wipe from the inside out and in one direction only. Use a clean part of the cloth each time.
- Wash your hands and your child’s hands very carefully after touching or wiping your child's eyes.
- Don’t share towels or washcloths because they could spread the illness.
- If your child has bacterial pinkeye and is taking antibiotics, she should stay home from child care or school until she’s had the antibiotics for 24 hours.
- If your child has viral pinkeye, she can return to child care once she has seen a doctor.
Source: Well Beings:: A Guide to Health in Child Care (3rd edition)
Reviewed by the following CPS Committees:
Public Education Advisory Committee
Last updated: October 2008