Every mom knows and fears it. It stalks playgrounds, day care centers, and schools. It can be found in every household sometime during childhood:
What is it? It’s the dreaded Pink Eye.
Pink eye is known as conjunctivitis in medical terminology. This inflammatory condition affects the conjunctiva (the thin membrane that covers the eye). It normally produces moisture to coat and lubricate the eye and has tiny blood vessels. When this membrane becomes irritated or inflamed the blood vessels enlarge, thus making the eye red.
Causes of conjunctivitis vary but most commonly arise from:
Infectious causes include bacteria and viruses which are common when children are together. The distinguishing mark of an infection is sticking together of the eyelids upon awakening in the morning and discharge of the eyes.
Infections usually cause a white or yellow thick discharge. Bacterial conjunctivitis requires treatment with antibiotic drops or ointment. In children, bacteria is the cause of conjunctivitis 80% of the time.
Infections produce red eyes, a sore throat and runny nose - symptoms found with the common cold. There is usually a watery discharge and can last from one to two weeks, or until the virus has run its course.
Infectious conjunctivitis is highly contagious whether it’s viral or bacterial. Contact with common objects such as towels and clothing must be avoided. Anything that a person touches can be contaminated. Because of this, frequent hand washing is especially important and can prevent the spread of the condition from one eye to the other or to family members. Most children need to be away from school for 4-7 days to avoid spreading the condition to classmates.
Allergies can also produce conjunctivitis. Chronic redness and itching of the eyes are hallmarks for allergic conjunctivitis. Children will often compensate by rubbing or blinking their eyes. Allergic conjunctivitis is especially common in children with hay fever or asthma. Anti-allergy eye drops can give dramatic relief to children with this problem.
Environmental irritants such as smoke or fumes may cause conjunctivitis. In these cases eradication of the offending irritant is the best remedy.
Several diseases can produce red eyes and are of a more serious nature than conjunctivitis. Symptoms to watch for are pain, blurred vision and severe light sensitivity. A complete eye examination is necessary to determine the cause and the proper course of treatment. The key is prevention. Hand washing is quite effective and can prevent many cases - especially spreading the condition from one eye to the other.
Careful supervision and quick action can help lessen the severity of a common childhood illness from infiltrating your family and home.
Dr. Scott Silverman is a fellowship-trained pediatric ophthalmologist who specializes in children. Call (941) 748-1818, or visit www.CoastalEye.com