Eye Infections

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If the white of your child’s eye and the inside of his lower lid become red, he probably has a condition called conjunctivitis. Also known as “pink eye” or “red eye,” this inflammation usually signals an infection but may be due to other causes, such as an irritation, an allergic reaction or (rarely) a more serious illness. It’s often accompanied by tearing and discharge, which is the body’s way of trying to heal or remedy the situation.

Treatment of Eye Infections

If your child has a red eye, he needs to see the pediatrician as soon as possible. The doctor will make the diagnosis, prescribe the necessary medication, and show you how to cleanse the eyelids. Never put previously opened medication or someone else’s eye medication into your child’s eye. It could cause serious damage.

In the newborn baby, serious eye infections may result from exposure to bacteria during passage through the birth canal, which is why all infants are treated with antibiotic eye ointment or drops in the delivery room. Such infections must be treated early to prevent serious complications. Eye infections that occur after the newborn period may be unsightly, because of the redness of the eye and the yellow discharge that usually accompanies them, and they may make your child uncomfortable, but they are rarely serious. Several different viruses, or occasionally bacteria, may cause them, and topical antibiotics (eye drops prescribed by your pediatrician) are the usual treatment.

Eye infections typically last up to one week and may be contagious. Except to administer drops or ointment, you should avoid direct contact with your child’s eyes or drainage from them until the medication has been used for several days and there is evidence of clearing of the redness. Carefully wash your hands before and after touching the area around the infected eye. If your child is in a day-care or nursery-school program, you should keep him home until the eyes are no longer red.

Excerpted from Caring for Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5, Bantam 1999

© Copyright 2000 American Academy of Pediatrics