Conjunctivitis: A Common Infection in Children
According to a study published in the American Journal of Infection Control, more than 164 million school days are missed annually in US public schools due to the spread of infectious diseases. An astonishing 3 million of those school days are lost as a result of acute conjunctivitis . . . also known as pink eye.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology wants to teach parents and educators how to prevent the spread of conjunctivitis in the classroom.
What is Conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis is the term used to describe inflammation of the conjunctiva — the thin, filmy membrane that covers the inside of your eyelids and the white part of your eye (known as the sclera). Often this condition is called “pink eye.” The three most common causes of conjunctivitis are: viral, bacterial, and allergic.
Bacterial conjunctivitis is a highly contagious form of pink eye caused by bacterial infections. This type of conjunctivitis usually causes a red eye with a lot of pus.
Viral conjunctivitis is caused by the same virus that causes the common cold and is also very contagious. A watery mucous is the common discharge in this form of conjunctivitis.
Allergic conjunctivitis is a form of conjunctivitis that is caused by the body’s reaction to an allergen or irritant. It is not contagious. The main symptom is itching.
How do you get pink eye?
Bacterial and viral conjunctivitis can be quite contagious. The most common ways to get the contagious form of pink eye include:
- Direct contact with an infected individual’s secretions, usually through hand-to-eye contact;
- Spread of the infection from bacteria living in the person’s own nose/sinus; and
- Not cleaning contact lenses properly and using poorly fitting contact lenses or decorative contacts.
Children are usually most susceptible to getting pink eye from bacteria or viruses because they are in close contact with so many others in school or day care centers and because they don’t practice good hygiene.
Pink Eye Prevention
Practicing good hygiene can help prevent the spread of conjunctivitis. If a child is infected, make sure to have them do the following to help prevent the spread of the illness:
- Wash their hands often. This includes all the people in contact with the child.
- Avoid having them touch their eyes.
- Make sure to avoid reusing towels, washcloths, handkerchiefs and tissues to wipe their face and eyes.
- Change their pillowcase frequently.
Children who return to school or daycare before their conjunctivitis has cleared risk spreading the infection.
Pink Eye Treatment
With viral conjunctivitis, pink eye symptoms can last from one to two weeks and then will disappear on their own. Antibiotic eyedrops do not cure viral conjunctivitis. Severe cases may last longer.
For bacterial conjunctivitis, an ophthalmologist (Eye M.D.) will typically prescribe antibiotic eye drops to treat the infection.
Allergic conjunctivitis treatment often includes applying cool compresses to the eyes and using anti-allergy eyedrops and cool artificial tears.
Pink Eye Home Care Tips
A compress applied to your closed eyelids can relieve some of the discomfort of pink eye. To make a compress, soak in water then wring out a clean, lint-free cloth. If your child has conjunctivitis in one eye only, don’t use the same cloth on both eyes so you won’t spread the infection from one eye to the other.
If your child has bacterial or viral conjunctivitis, a warm compress is usually best. If their eyes are irritated by allergic conjunctivitis, try a cool water compress. Over-the-counter lubricating eyedrops (artificial tears) may also provide relief from pink eye symptoms.
If these symptoms persist, be sure bring child to see us to receive the proper care.