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Everything You Need to Know About Pink Eye

It’s that first glimpse of red, irritated, watery eyes that strikes fear in the hearts of parents everywhere: pink eye. In most cases, it’s relatively harmless if treated quickly. But—as you may have heard—it’s highly contagious.

The most common way pink eye (also called conjunctivitis) is passed is through direct person-to-person contact, which is why hand washing is so important. Pink eye can also be spread through germs coughed or sneezed into the air or when passed through contact with toys or other items touched by others who are infected.

What causes pink eye?

Pink eye can originate from many different sources, such as:

Viral pink eye is the most common type seen in children, typically occurring along with a common cold or upper respiratory infection. Watch for redness, itchiness, and a watery discharge in one or both eyes.

● Allergic reactions to irritants such as pollen, dust, or pet dander can be the cause of allergic pink eye. This type of pink eye may be seasonal or perennial. Symptoms include watery and itchy eyes, feeling of grittiness in the eyes, and is often associated with other allergy symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, and congestion.

● Bacteria including staph aureus can cause bacterial pink eye, characterized by its yellow-green discharge along with redness and itchiness.

● Irritants like dust, smoke, chlorine, or chemicals can cause irritant pink eye which typically resolves on its own in a few days. This type of pink eye is not contagious.

Who’s at risk of contracting pink eye?

Children who have been exposed to infected individuals, have poor hand-washing habits, have allergies, or are exposed to environmental irritants are most often at risk. In addition, children who attend daycare or school may be at an increased risk due to close contact with other children. It is important to seek medical attention if symptoms of pink eye persist or worsen.

Left untreated or improperly treated, pink eye can lead to serious complications such as corneal ulceration or vision loss. Additionally, some cases of pink eye may be caused by more serious underlying conditions that require medical attention, such as herpes simplex virus or Kawasaki disease.

What are the treatment options for pink eye?

Even when you’ve taken every precaution, pink eye can still infect your child. Treatment depends on the cause of the pink eye.

● Viral pink eye can usually be taken care of at home by using warm, wet compresses to help remove the crusty discharge from eyelashes. If drainage is thick white, yellow, or green and needs to be wiped out of the eye multiple times per day, it is likely a bacterial infection. A trip to the doctor is needed to verify if it is bacterial and if antibiotic drops need to be prescribed.

● Pink eye caused by allergies can be treated by over-the-counter-allergy eye drops, but you may want to consult with your pediatrician first to confirm the type and best treatment option for your child.

● For pink eye caused by exposures to irritants like smoke, cosmetics, or dust, you can try flushing the eye with over-the-counter saline drops. If your child has pain or continues to have symptoms, it is best to see a doctor.

Regardless of the type of pink eye, hand washing is always a good idea to prevent spread or reinfection. You should also wash towels, pillowcases, and clothing that has been used by your child. If your child wears contacts, they should switch to wearing glasses until the infection is gone. The old contacts need to be discarded as well.

What’s the best way to avoid pink eye?

Preventing the spread of pink eye in children is key to minimizing its impact on their health and well-being. Here are some tips for preventing pink eye:

● Encourage your child to wash their hands frequently, especially before touching their eyes or face.

● Avoid sharing personal items such as towels, pillowcases, or eye makeup.

● Cover coughs and sneezes.

● Keep allergens at bay.

● Avoid irritants such as smoke, chemicals, or chlorine.

● Ensure that your child is up to date with their immunizations, as some infections such as measles or rubella can cause pink eye.

When is it time to see a doctor?

If your child has any of the following symptoms, it’s best to see a doctor as soon as possible:

● Redness, swelling, or pain in the eye or eyelid

● Blurry vision, double vision, or increased sensitivity to light

● Blister-like sores close to the eye

● Cloudy look in the eye

● No improvement of infection after two days of using the prescribed medication

By being proactive in seeking immediate care, you can avoid potential long-term problems. A local urgent care center like FirstKids – designed just for children – gives you the option to seek necessary medical attention at any time, without waiting for the next available appointment. FirstKids Urgent Care is a fully staffed, walk-in facility serving the Tuscaloosa areas, so there’s no appointment necessary. (If you prefer to schedule an appointment, you can do it online here.)

The professional staff at FirstKids is prepared to provide routine or urgent care for children of all ages. The clinic also accepts all major insurance plans, as well as Medicaid and self-pay patients as well.

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