Conjunctivitis or pink eye is one of those conditions that effect children where your damned if you and damned if you don't - treat it, that is. It is highly contagious and some children seem to get repeat bouts of it. Generally speaking it affects one eye but because it is highly contagious, it doesn't take long before the child has rubbed it into the other eye - and their friends and siblings as well. So how do you deal with conjunctivitis. Let's break it down first.
What is Conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis is a name given to any condition that affects transparent membrane that lines the inside of the eyelid and part of the eyeball. The term "itis" signifies an inflammation. The inflammation effects the tiny blood vessels in the eyeball and this is what causes the 'pink eye' effect.
What are the Symptoms of Conjunctivitis?
The pink eye effect is one of the first signs of conjunctivitis. The child may complain of dry or itchy eyes and will tend to rub them a lot - thus adding to the inflammation and pink eye effect. There will normally be a discharge which is quite noticeable in the mornings - the child's eyes will often be glued shut.
What are the Causes of Conjunctivitis?
There are three main causes of conjunctivitis - Viral, Bacterial and allergic. Viral is often associated with colds and flu's with symptoms such as sore throat, runny nose and perhaps a cough. Bacterial infections generally have that 'infection' discharge - a creamy to green discharge from the eyes. Allergic conjunctivitis is found together with very itchy eyes and other allergy related issues such as sneezing.
In newborns, conjunctivitis is common is caused by a blockage in the tear ducts. It will soon clear. Most newborns receive special drops at birth to provide some protection from conjunctivitis.
How to Treat Conjunctivitis
One of the problems with allergic and viral conjunctivitis is that children cannot help but rub their eyes. This runs the risk of adding bacteria to the equation. Keeping the hands and face clean is important. You can also help by changing pillow slips daily and by not reusing items such as face cloths (especially on other children).
For newborns, gently cleaning the eyes with sterile water and cotton balls often helps. Only wipe the eye once with each cotton ball and never dip a used ball into the sterile water. Your doctor may prescribe an eye drop or eye cream if it is a bacterial infection.
For older children, keeping the eyes clean using cotton balls and sterile water helps. There are over the counter solutions that also help to ease the itchyness of conjunctivitis. If there is a discharge from the eye that lasts longer than 24 hours then consult your doctor. If it is a bacterial infection or allergic reaction then eye drops or creams may be prescribed.
There is no 'cure' for viral conjunctivitis. Like all viruses, it just needs to run its course. Normally 7-14 days. If the discharge darkens then you should seek medical advice as bacteria may have entered the eye.
For glued eyes in the morning, resist the temptation to force the eyelids apart. Use a damp warm face cloth to gently dissolve some of the 'glue'. The eyes should come apart with little effort.
Your own personal hygiene is important when conjunctivitis is suspected. Keep your hands clean especially after dealing with infected persons eyes. Resist the temptation to touch the area around the eyes with your fingers. Don't try to pull any 'glue' from the eye lashes - use a damp face cloth to gently dissolve then wipe away and glue.
Conjunctivitis rarely leads to any serious conditions and often heals itself within 10-14 of onset. However, in rare cases the retina can become damages which leads then to eyesight problems. With that in mind, always see a doctor if the problem persists and shows no signs of clearing.