Photo: Getty Images
Pink eye or conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the clear membrane, known as the conjunctiva, which covers the white part of the eye and the inside of the eyelids. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), this common childhood ailment can be the result of allergic inflammation or a bacterial or viral infection.
Newborns are vulnerable to pink eye, too, and if left untreated, neonatal conjunctivitis infections can cause complications. Symptoms include an overall eye discomfort, as if there is sand in the eye. Both the eye and eyelid appear red and sometimes swollen. In the morning, many children awaken with dried discharge that can cause the eyelids to stick together.
Allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious and is usually seen in kids with other known allergies like hay fever or animal dander. Contact with other allergens, like smoke or pool chlorine, can also result in allergic conjunctivitis.
Cases of contagious pink eye, however, are often the result of the same bacteria and viruses that cause colds, ear infections, or sore throats. Your child’s doctor will prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointment if the cause of the infection is bacteria and may recommend a day or two away from school, while contagious.
Conjunctivitis in newborns can have several causes. The bacteria related to the sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) chlamydia and gonorrhea can also cause pink eye. If a baby is born to a mother with an STD, the bacteria or virus can pass into baby’s eyes from the birth canal, causing infection.
According to the CDC, neonatal conjunctivitis infections caused by an STD are serious. As a result, newborns are given preventative antibiotic eye drops right after birth. Sometimes these eye drops give newborn infants a chemical conjunctivitis that disappears on its own. Newborn babies that are born with a narrow or blocked tear duct may also develop conjunctivitis.
Parents can help prevent pink eye by teaching kids to wash hands often. CDC recommends that children with active pink eye infections should not share tissues, pillows, towels, or washcloths. Older children should not share eye makeup or eye drops.