Not All Pink Eyes are Created Equal

For today’s Ask Dr.Mom, I’ll be talking about pink eye. I get so many questions from parents about this, mostly it goes like this: “ewww…I hope it’s not pink eye!”

Pink eye is one of those afflictions that causes us to squirm, think “oh no!”, and inspire us to wash our hands a million times throughout the day. Most of us tend to hide away inside our homes until the icky looking discharge oozing from our child’s eyes disappears.

So, what exactly is pink eye, and what do we truly need to do about it?

Here are some quick facts about pink eye:

  • Pink eye is a general term for what we pediatricians call conjunctivitis.
  • Conjunctivitis is the inflammation of the mucus membrane of the inner eyelids.
  • Conjunctivitis can be caused by viruses, bacteria, environmental allergies, or a topical irritant.
  • Viral conjunctivitis in young children is very common, especially during the summer.
  • Viral conjunctivitis will go away on it’s own, without antibiotic drops.
  • Only bacterial conjunctivitis needs to be treated with antibiotic eye drops.

Which brings me to my next question, how do we know if it’s bacterial conjunctivitis?

  • With bacterial conjunctivitis, the eye discharge is more likely to be yellow/green and “icky”.
  • Children with bacterial conjunctivitis often wake up with their eyes “sealed shut”.
  • Can be associated with an accompanying ear infection.
  • These cases need to be treated with antibiotic drops.
  • A child with bacterial conjunctivitis may return to school 24 hours after initiation of treatment and obvious signs of improvement.

Five factors pointing to a non-bacterial culprit for conjunctivitis:

  • The child is older than 6 years old
  • It’s summer time: viral conjunctivitis is more common during the late spring and summer months.
  • The discharge from your child’s eye is clear, watery, and may or may not be associated with allergy symptoms such as sneezing and eye itching.
  • No yellow/green eye discharge
  • Child does not wake with his eyes “sealed shut”.

If your child meets most of the criteria above, her conjunctivitis is more likely due to a virus or may be part of her allergy symptoms.

Tips for Treatment and Prevention:

  • Be vigilant about hand washing. Both viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are extremely contagious.
  • HAND WASHING. It’s worth repeating.
  • If it’s bacterial and your child is prescribed antibiotic drops, finish the designated days of treatment.
  • In most cases, treat both eyes even if only one appears to be infected at the time. Young children will inevitably spread it to the other eye. Avoid the ping pong effect.
  • Tip for antibiotic administration: have your child lie down, it’s okay if her eyes are closed. Place the drop in the inner eye, near the nose. Once your child starts blinking, the drops will enter the eye.

Now you know…not all pink eyes are created equal. Only half of the cases in children are truly bacterial. Look for the signs above, consult with your pediatrician, and above all…keep on washing those hands.

What questions do you have about pink eye?

*Every Wednesday I will be answering a question from You! Please submit your parenting or health related question to mommamd4two(at)aol(dot)com. I’m looking forward to hearing from you and featuring your question. *

12 Responses to Not All Pink Eyes are Created Equal
  1. Natalie
    March 30, 2011 | 7:46 am

    Thank you for this! I always wondered what the difference in symptoms was between viral and bacterial.

    Last summer, I thought I had pink eye…turns out it was allergy related! That had never happened to me before.

  2. Liz
    March 30, 2011 | 10:12 am

    I had no idea pink eye came in 2 "varieties!" :)

  3. Yuliya
    March 30, 2011 | 10:58 am

    Good stuff here. (Yes I feel spammy today)

  4. Dalia (Generation X Mom)
    March 30, 2011 | 11:37 am

    Wondering when they will come out with an over-the-counter pink eye treatment. I always hate having to go into the office just to get a pink eye drop. I guess they want to know if it is bacterial or viral – but still :).

  5. Lexie Loo & Dylan Too
    March 30, 2011 | 12:01 pm

    Thank you for posting this! My son was sent home from school in the Fall with pink eye, and was not allowed to return until he had been on antibiotic drops for 24 hours. I really began to suspect that it wasn't actually pink eye, because his eye began to clear up before we even started the drops. Now I know to actually go the pediatrician, instead of just requesting drops!

  6. Stefanie
    March 30, 2011 | 1:43 pm

    Incredibly helpful information (as usual)! Sent to both Twitter and FB followers. Thanks :)

  7. Making It Work Mom
    March 30, 2011 | 4:25 pm

    I have never had pink eye in my 15 years of working with children – NEVER! That is my claim to fame.
    Good post distinguishing the differences!

  8. Betsy at Zen-Mama
    March 31, 2011 | 6:58 am

    We've had a small outbreak of pinkeye at our preschool. I'm going to print this and put it on our bulletin board. Thanks Melissa!!

  9. Joey @ Big Teeth and Clouds
    March 31, 2011 | 6:03 pm

    Last week, I heard that pink eye is "going around" my daughter's school. Good grief!

  10. Ameena
    March 31, 2011 | 7:55 pm

    Since I constantly had pink eye as a child I think I actually have this topic covered! Since this rarely happens I am actually kind of proud of myself!! :)

  11. Michaela (aka Mama Michie)
    April 2, 2011 | 9:01 pm

    I had no clue there were different types of pink eye! This is great information to have. Thanks for sharing it!!

  12. Anonymous
    May 16, 2011 | 6:28 pm

    We have my daughters 4th bday on sat and i just discovered gooky green/ yellow boogers in my son5 and daughters16m eyes… Im calling the doc in the am… i have hope now that its bacterial and with the drops the party wont be ruined!! -thanks!