What Causes Pink Eye in Children?

You are planning a fun family day out and about in Hickory including a stop at We Rock the Spectrum Kid’s Gym, be sure to pack some hand sanitizer for your children to use over the source of the visit to help keep the risk of exposure to pink eye minimal.

Children, especially those who gather in large social settings such as daycare or school, are notorious for picking up various illnesses, including pink eye. Should your child wake up with gunky pink eyes, you may be wondering about the causes of this common eye infection.

What is Pink Eye?

Pink eye, medically known as conjunctivitis, occurs when the conjunctiva, the clear tissue lining the inside of the eyelid and covering the outer coating of the eyeball, becomes swollen. Its primary role is to keep the eyes moist. Pink eye affects both adults and children and is incredibly common in the U.S., with over six million cases reported annually, resulting in millions of missed school days.

Newborns with conjunctivitis, especially those less than four weeks old, require immediate medical attention. Neonatal conjunctivitis can be a sign of serious infection transmitted during childbirth by mothers untreated for gonorrhea or chlamydia. Eye drops given to newborns in the U.S. immediately after birth would qualify as environmental irritants and can cause conjunctivitis for a day or two.

Common Symptoms:

  • Watery eyes
  • Blurred vision
  • Green or white stringy discharge
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Crusting of the eyelids or lashes, especially while sleeping
  • Redness and swelling in the white of the eye or inner eyelid
  • Thick yellow discharge that crusts over eyelashes, especially after sleep
  • Gritty feeling in one or both eyes

5 Causes of Pink Eye

  1. Viruses: Highly contagious viral conjunctivitis can be caused by different viruses and can lead to large outbreaks. It usually resolves on its own within days.
  2. Bacteria: Bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria such as Streptococcus pneumoniae or Haemophilus influenzae. It can spread easily, especially among children, and may require antibiotic treatment. This type of pink eye is most common among children.
  3. Allergens: Allergic conjunctivitis results from a body’s reaction to specific allergens like pollen, dust, makeup, or pet dander. It is not contagious and often itchy. It is most common among those who have other allergic conditions, such as asthma.
  4. Irritants: Environmental chemicals, airborne irritants, foreign objects in the eye, or improper contact lens care can lead to non-contagious irritant conjunctivitis. Irritants may cause the eyes to burn.
  5. Herpes: Conjunctivitis can also be caused by viruses such as those associated with oral or genital herpes and those who have gotten cold sores previously are more prone to this type of infection.

Ways To Prevent Pink Eye

Preventing pink eye can be challenging as it spreads through close contact with infected individuals or contaminated surfaces. Keep your child at home until they no longer have a fever or discharge from their eyes to prevent spreading the infection.

  • Try to keep your child from touching their eyes.
  • Change pillowcases and sheets daily.
  • Use a fresh bath towel every day.
  • Use a new cotton ball to wash away any discharge from the eyes twice daily and dispose of it afterward.
  • Have your child wash their hands often, especially after touching their eyes.
  • Don’t wear your contact lenses until your eyes are back to normal.
  • Do not share anything that touches your eyes.
  • Don’t wear makeup because the bacteria or virus can transfer to it and cause reinfection.

Warm compresses and artificial tear eyedrops can help alleviate the irritation and inflammation associated with conjunctivitis. Avoid using red-reducing eye drops, as they may worsen irritation. The use of breastmilk is a common suggestion to treat eye infections, however, it has not been proven to facilitate healing and can introduce more bacteria.

Most often, pink eye is just an uncomfortable and annoying ailment of little concern beyond keeping it from spreading to others. Understanding the causes and proper management of pink eye is essential for ensuring your child’s eye health.

Visit AFC Urgent Care Hickory if your child experiences severe symptoms, a worsening condition, or if they have a weakened immune system or preexisting eye conditions.