Pink Eye - Conjunctivitis

One of the most common reasons for a child to see a pediatrician is for a red eye, commonly referred to as "pink eye." The medical term for a red eye caused by inflammation is "conjunctivitis." It can be caused by bacteria, a virus, an allergic reaction, an irritative source such as smoke or pollutants, or trauma.

The most common type of conjunctivitis is viral and is usually associated with upper respiratory infections. It should be considered contagious. Viral conjunctivitis often starts in one eye and goes to the other. If yellowish or greenish discharge accompanies the redness and watering, then bacteria may be the cause of the infection, and antibiotic eye drops are often prescribed. Antibiotics will not cure a viral conjunctivitis which may take from three to 14 days to resolve.

In contrast, allergic conjunctivitis will show itching as its most common symptom. It almost always involves both eyes with a whitish mucus discharge and mild eyelid swelling. Allergic conjunctivitis can be treated with cold compresses and antihistamine eye drops for symptomatic relief, but often recurs due to the chronic nature of the allergic condition.

When a red eye occurs in one eye only, an early bacterial or viral conjunctivitis can be present. However, conditions such as corneal abrasions from trauma or from herpetic corneal disease have to ruled out.

It is important to have your pediatrician evaluate your child’s red eye completely. If there are any questions as to its cause, a prompt referral to an ophthalmologist is appropriate. A good medical history can tell the ophthalmologist whether or not the red eye is due to an infectious, allergic, or traumatic cause and will aid in the treatment course prescribed for the patient.

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