What are the Symptoms of Pink Eye in Infants?

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  • Written By: Robyn Clark
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 12 June 2019
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Pink eye is the common term for conjunctivitis, an inflammation of the conjunctiva membrane that covers the inner eyelids and the white part of the eye. Conjunctivitis is a symptom that can be caused by a number of underlying medical conditions. Redness and inflammation in the eye are typically accompanied by other symptoms, including swelling, discharge, tearing, pain, itchiness, grittiness, and light sensitivity. These additional symptoms are important clues for diagnosing the root cause of pink eye in infants and determining the proper treatment.

Bacterial conjunctivitis is contagious and can be accompanied by redness, yellow or green discharge, and swollen eyelids. Hand washing and other hygienic practices are important to prevent transmission from one eye to the other, and from one person to another. Viral conjunctivitis is also contagious. If conjunctivitis is caused by a virus, then both eyes are typically involved, and there is minimal to no discharge from the eye. Coughing and sneezing are another way that these infections are transmitted.


Irritation is another common cause of pink eye in infants. Seasonal allergies can cause redness and itchiness, usually in both eyes. Dust or other foreign bodies can cause severe irritation, pain, tearing, and drainage in one eye. Scratches or other direct injuries to the eye can cause pain, redness, and tears. Newborn infants can experience conjunctivitis from blocked tear ducts, as an allergic response to eye drops given at birth, or as the result of an infection transmitted from the mother.

Parents are often frustrated when trying to determine the cause of pink eye in infants and very young children, as infants are unable to verbalize pain or other non-visual symptoms. Non-verbal clues can include crying, fussiness, or rubbing the eyes. Reporting these signs, in addition to when the symptoms were first observed, can help a physician to determine the correct diagnosis.

The treatment prescribed will depend on the cause. There is no treatment for viral conjunctivitis, and the infected individual can remain contagious for two to three weeks. Antibacterial eye drops or ointments are prescribed for treating bacterial conjunctivitis, and the symptoms will typically improve within a few days. Ointment can be easier to use when treating pink eye in infants and young children. Redness caused by allergies is treated by prescribing medications for the allergies and by reducing exposure to allergens.

A pediatrician should be consulted at the onset of symptoms, and if symptoms do not improve with treatment. The conditions that cause conjunctivitis can develop into more serious complications if left untreated. Potential complications of pink eye in infants and adults can include serious inflammation of the cornea and vision impairment.



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