Most parents call it pinkeye, but when doctors talk about it, they use the term conjunctivitis. It is an inflammation of the mucous membrane on the inner side of the eyelids. Although it is common and usually not a serious condition, parents understandably become anxious when their child develops symptoms such as bright pink eyes and yellow-green pus that can make the eyelids stick together, particularly upon awakening in the morning.
A number of different bacteria—including staphylococcus and streptococcus—can cause conjunctivitis. Viruses and allergies also may be responsible for pinkeye. Both the bacterial and viral infections are contagious, so make sure your child does not share towels, washcloths, and pillows with other family members. Careful handwashing is the most important preventive measure.
These viral infections tend to clear up on their own in a few days. Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic—either eyedrops or an ointment—for bacterial conjunctivitis; make sure your child uses the antibiotic for the prescribed time period, even if the symptoms disappear. Two adults may be needed to administer the drops: one to hold the eye open and reassure the child while the other adult actually puts the drops in the eye. Also, periodically wash the eyelids, using a cotton ball soaked in warm water, to keep them from sticking together. Keep your child home until her eyes no longer have a discharge.