Childhood Illness Spotlight: Conjunctivitis

This month we are talking about conjunctivitis which a common and very contagious ailment.

What Is Conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis is a common eye condition that many children will experience at some point, particularly when they are under 5 years old. It’s also known as ‘pink eye’, since it gives the affected eye a red or pinkish colour.

What can cause Conjunctivitis?

Allergy: This is when the eyes get red, itchy and inflamed as part of an allergic reaction. It’s not the same as just getting itchy and watery eyes during hay fever season though.  Allergic conjunctivitis is a reaction that causes your body to produce high levels of histamine to fight off whatever you’re allergic to. Mould spores, animal dander, chemicals or pollen can set off allergic conjunctivitis, along with a whole host of other allergens. While it’s irritating and uncomfortable, this type of conjunctivitis isn’t contagious, so you don’t need to worry about your child passing it on. It can hang around for a while though, so if your child is suffering with it the doctor might give them some medication to help.

Infection: This is the most common type of conjunctivitis and the one most people think of when they hear the word. It’s caused by a bacterial or viral infection and is very common in young children, particularly if they haven’t washed their hands or touch their eyes a lot. It tends to show the more ‘classic’ symptoms of conjunctivitis, including the sticky discharge. This type of conjunctivitis is very contagious.

Irritant: This is when your eyes come into contact with something that irritates them. The most common culprits for children are things like chlorine, or other chemicals they might come into contact with (like cleaning chemicals or even soap). This type of conjunctivitis doesn’t last long and usually clears up by flushing the eye with water.

What Are The Symptoms?

The symptoms of conjunctivitis will vary slightly depending on the type of conjunctivitis your child has. Generally, in both cases they will have:

  • Bloodshot eyes, or pinkish discolouration in the whites of one or both eyes
  • Burning sensations around the eyes
  • Itchiness
  • Wateriness or excessive tearing
  • Redness and swelling around the eye area

If your child has infectious conjunctivitis, then they will have:

  • Discharge from one or both eyes
  • A gritty scratchy feeling when blinking

Your child will probably be a bit grouchy too, and who could blame them! Infectious conjunctivitis can also leave them feeling a bit under the weather, with cold-like symptoms, a sore throat and a mild fever. Overall, not a great feeling!

How Is Conjunctivitis Diagnosed?

For the most part, you can usually tell if a child has conjunctivitis pretty easily. If you think your child has conjunctivitis, take them to your GP or healthcare worker. They will examine your child’s eyes and have a look at their allergy record if they’ve had issues in the past. The doctor will look for redness in and around the eyes, the sticky discharge and small bumps inside the eyes, which are all visible signs of conjunctivitis. These days a lot of parents will actually self-diagnose conjunctivitis since the symptoms are so easy to recognise and treatment is simple, but if you’re concerned, always see your doctor.

How Is It Treated?

Conjunctivitis is quite straightforward to treat and can last between a few days and a couple of weeks.  Keep the affected eye (or eyes) clean to keep your child comfortable. Try to clean the eyes a few times a day.

  • Boil some water and let it cool down
  • Using a clean piece of cotton wool gently wipe the eye and lashes clean, removing any sticky discharge.  Use a clean piece of cotton wool each time you wipe. Never use it twice as that will spread the infection.
  • You can also give your child medicine if they have a fever and to make them more comfortable.
  • Place a piece of cotton wool on each eye that has been soaked in cold water which will be soothing.  Make sure the water has been previously boiled though. 

If your child has infectious conjunctivitis then you should also make sure you wash their pillowcases  and towels regularly in hot water and detergent to stop the infection hanging around.

If your child has allergic conjunctivitis, or if a GP is confident the conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria (and not a virus), then they may prescribe antibiotics, antihistamines or other medication to help speed up recovery, but usually it will clear up on its own.

Do seek urgent medical attention: if your baby is under 28 days old and has red eyes. If your child starts to complain of sharp pain in their eyes, has sensitivity to light or any changes in their vision.

That’s a lot to remember, so if you do need to give your child medicine while they’re unwell why don’t you make life a little easier for yourself and use the Medi-Redi storage timer. You can keep all your medicines and spoons together in one place and it will clearly tell you when it is safe to give more medicine.  One less thing to worry so instead you can spend your time giving your little one lots of TLC instead!

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