Parents have been asking me some eye opening questions about whether or not their child could get pinkeye.  Well, let me see what I can tell you about this problem.

Pinkeye gets its name because it describes the pink or reddish appearance of what is normally the white part of the eye and inside of the eyelids.  We also call this type of redness conjunctivitis.

What causes it? Well, it can be due to an infection from bacteria or viruses and/or allergies or chemicals that get into the eye. But no matter what the cause, it will result in redness, tearing, itching and often a discharge of watery or thick white or yellow fluid – affectionately referred to as pus – that can sometimes cause the lids to stick together.

If caused by an infectious germ, pinkeye can be contagious and will spread through direct contact with the afflicted person. If a virus is the cause, coughing and sneezing is another  way it can spread  to others.

If you find your child with these symptoms, your child’s doctor can help determine the cause and in turn the treatment.  No matter what the cause, all children benefit from cleaning out the discharge with a clean, cool, wet washcloth.  If it is infectious due to a bacterial germ, prescription eye drops or ointment are often recommended.  Children can return to school after 1 day of treatment with the drops or after drainage stops. If the infection is due to a viral cause, this may take longer and your doctor can advise you on when it is best for your child to return to school.

If a child doesn’t improve in 1-2 days or develops a fever, blisters around they eye, or complains of severe eye pain, blurred vision, or increased tenderness and redness around the eye rather than in it, then please return to your child’s doctor for further evaluation and treatment.

Of course the best way to deal with pinkeye or conjunctivitis is to not let it happen.

Following these tips can help reduce the chances of your child or you encountering problems with pinkeye:

  • Wash your hands after interacting with anyone who may have pinkeye
  • If you have this problem, wash your hands frequently so as not to spread whatever is causing the problem to others.
  • Don’t share washcloths, towels or pillowcases
  • If you think the pinkeye is due to an allergy, try to have the person with pinkeye stay away from what may be causing that allergy by closing windows when the pollen count is high, avoiding scented or irritating chemicals like household cleaners and reducing or eliminating exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Hopefully tips like this will allow you to know what to do in a blink of an eye the next time you are worried about your child getting pinkeye.

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital at the University of Vermont Medical Center and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives.


Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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