If the white of your child’s eye and the inside of his lower lid become red, he probably has a condition called conjunctivitis. Also known as pinkeye, this inflammation, which can be painful and itchy, usually signals an infection, but may be due to other causes, such as an irritation, an allergic reaction, or (rarely) a more serious condition. It’s often accompanied by tearing and discharge, which is the body’s way of trying to heal or remedy the situation.
If your child has a red eye, he needs to see the pediatrician as soon as possible. Eye infections typically last seven to ten days. The doctor will make the diagnosis and prescribe necessary medication if it is indicated. Never put previously opened medication or someone else’s eye medication into your child’s eye. It could cause serious damage.
In a newborn baby, serious eye infections may result from exposure to bacteria during passage through the birth canal—which is why all infants are treated with antibiotic eye ointment or drops in the delivery room. Such infections must be treated early to prevent serious complications. Eye infections that occur after the new-born period may be unsightly, because of the redness of the eye and the yellow discharge that usually accompanies them, and they may make your child uncomfortable, but they are rarely serious. Several different viruses, or bacteria, may cause them. If your pediatrician feels the problem is caused by bacteria, antibiotic eyedrops are the usual treatment. Conjunctivitis caused by viruses should not be treated with antibiotics.
Eye infections are very contagious. Except to administer drops or ointment, you should avoid direct contact with your child’s eyes or drainage from them until the medication has been used for several days and there is evidence of clearing of the redness. Carefully wash your hands before and after touching the area around the infected eye. If your child is in a child care or nursery school program, you should keep him home until the pinkeye is no longer contagious. Your pediatrician will tell you when you can safely send her back to child care or nursery school.