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What are the Symptoms of Conjunctivitis in Children?

By Jesse Pompei
Updated May 17, 2024
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Conjunctivitis, otherwise known as pink eye, is an inflammation of the clear, outermost layer of the eye, called the conjunctiva, and the inner lining of the eyelids. The infection can be either viral or bacterial, and both forms of conjunctivitis have similar symptoms in children. Symptoms of conjunctivitis in children include eye pain, itching, burning and a discharge and crusting on the eyelids. Children also might have sensitivity to light and feel as if something is in their eye, and the eyes might water more than usual. Both viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are contagious, so preventing its spread in daycare settings and schools is imperative.

Viral conjunctivitis is the more common form of the infection, and the symptoms in children are usually seen in only one eye. The eye can have intense tearing and watering as well as a slight discharge and crusting around the eyelid. Viral conjunctivitis symptoms in children are usually associated with a common cold or an upper respiratory infection. Medicines do not relieve the symptoms of viral conjunctivitis in children, so home remedies typically are used to ease discomfort.

Bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by the pyogenic, or pus-producing, bacteria. The symptoms of this type of conjunctivitis in children are an irritation or gritty feeling in the eye and a thick discharge that can be greenish, gray or yellow in color. This discharge could cause the eyelids to form a crust and stick together, especially during sleep. As with viral conjunctivitis, the symptoms are usually seen in only one eye in the beginning stages but can move to both eyes within a few days. Antibiotic eye drops or an ointment can be prescribed to ease the pain associated with the symptoms of conjunctivitis in children, but the infection can also resolve itself without treatment.

Although the symptoms of conjunctivitis in children can be observed at home, they should be checked out by a medical professional to make sure that the symptoms are not indicative a larger issue. At that time, the doctor can also determine whether the conjunctivitis is viral or bacterial and whether antibiotics need to be prescribed. Conjunctivitis is quite common in children because of the rapid spread of the infection through daycare and school settings. Stopping the spread of the infection is important and can be achieved through hand washing and not sharing washcloths or towels.

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