Conjunctivitis (pinkeye) is a fairly common condition in which the conjunctiva, the clear membrane over the white part of the eye, becomes inflamed and swollen.
The appearance of conjunctivitis, red swollen conjuntiva, can cause concern to patients or parents of infants suffering from this condition. Infectious conjunctivitis or pinkeye can be highly-contagious and spread quickly.
Despite its concerning appearance, however, conjunctivitis is a very common disease that can be cleared up in a relatively short amount of time and usually causes no long-term issues.
Specialists in pediatric ophthatlmology are experts in diagnosing eye infections like conjunctivitis, or pinkeye. Often the infection is described in the part of the eye that is inflamed. Examples of eye infections include:
- Conjunctivitis: Inflammation of the conjunctiva
- Blepharitis: Inflammation of the eyelid
- Keratitis: Inflammation of the cornea, the transparent layer forming the front of the eye
- Neuroretinitis: Inflammation of the optic nerve, the cranial nerve transmitting impulses to the brain from the retina at the back of the eye
- Chorioretinitis: Inflammation of the retina and the blood vessels that feed it
- Vitritis: Inflammation of the vitreous, the liquid inside the eye
Causes of Conjunctivitis (Pinkeye)
Pinkeye can be caused by a number of different bacteria and viruses, including the bacteria and viruses that cause the following:
- Common Colds: Adenovirus, a common cold virus, is the most common cause of conjunctivitis
- Ear Infections
- Sinus Infections
- Sore Throats
- And the same type of bacteria that causes chlamydia and gonorrhea
Pinkeye can also be caused by certain allergies, usually seen in both eyes of children who already suffer from other allergic conditions like hay fever. Allergic conjunctivitis can be caused by exposure to grass, ragweed pollen, animal dander and dust mites amongst other things. Another possible cause for a child’s pinkeye is an irritation in response to something in their surrounding environment,such as certain chemicals (chlorine, soaps etc.) or air pollutants (smoke and fumes).
Conjunctivitis (Pinkeye) in Newborns
Although conjunctivitis in general is not a concerning condition, it is important to pay special attention to this pinkeye when it occurs in newborns, bearing in mind that if left untreated, it can cause serious health complications.
If a baby is born to a mother with an STD (sexually transmitted disease) during delivery, the baby’s journey through the birth canal can transfer bacteria or viruses into the baby’s eyes, which can result in pinkeye. In order to prevent this, doctors usually give antibiotic ointment or eye drops to all babies immediately following birth.
Symptoms of Conjunctivitis (Pinkeye)
Symptoms of conjunctivitis can vary from patient to patient depending on the different type of pinkeye. Common pinkeye symptoms include:
- Discomfort in the eye
- Redness of the eye and the inner eyelid
- Discharge from the eyes, often causing sticky eyes when a child wakes up
- Swollen eyelids
- Sensitivity to bright light
Is Pinkeye Contagious?
Any case of pinkeye/conjunctivitis caused by bacteria or viruses is contagious. A child can obtain pinkeye just by touching an infected person or even touching something the infected person has also touched, like a used tissue. Pinkeye also spreads when infected children swim with children who are not, or share towels after swimming. It can also be spread through coughing and sneezing. A doctor will recommend a child with a contagious form of conjunctivitis stay out of school or other activities where the condition can be spread easily.
Treatment for Conjunctivitis (Pinkeye)
Pinkeye that is caused by a virus will most likely disappear without too much intervention. It is important to have a doctor establish what form of pinkeye your child has, since bacterial conjunctivitis requires treatment with antibiotic eye drops or ointment. If the condition is simply caused by allergies, which needs to be established by a doctor, he or she may prescribe some specific anti-allergy medication, in the form of pills, liquid or eye drops.
Despite the fact that conjunctivitis in children (aside from newborns) is not usually very serious, your child should be seen by an ophthalmologist, as several more serious conditions have similar symptoms to that of conjunctivitis, and it is important to get the correct treatment as soon as possible.