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Illnesses & Symptoms

Pink Eye and Other Red Eyes

Pink eye” can be from many common and uncommon causes:

  • Bacterial conjunctivitis: This is when the white part of the eyeball gets red, lids may become puffy, and there is yellow drainage. After sleeping the lids commonly stick together. Even bacterial pink eye can clear on its own, but we often treat with antibiotic drops or ointment to stop the spread of germs and to get kids back to school/daycare. Be sure to wash hands frequently when it is in the home. Also, have a separate towel for everyone to dry the face after washing (this should be every day, not just when an infection is known you never know when it will start!) Bacterial conjunctivitis is considered contagious until 24 hours after antibiotics have started or the drainage stops. The discharge should stop within 2-3 days after starting the antibiotic. To give eye drops, have the child lay with eyes closed, chin up. Put a drop in the inside corner of each eye (treat both even if only one looks infected) and have the child open the eyes. If the drop fails to go in the eye, repeat until it goes in. You can wash the lashes with baby shampoo to get the crust off. Wash hands before and after touching the eye. If contact lenses are usually worn, do not use them until the infection is gone and treatment has stopped. Replace contacts if able.
  • Viral conjunctivitis: Often during a cold, the eye gets yellow drainage, the eyelid may look red/puffy, but white of eye stays white. Viral pinkeye just needs to be wiped with a clean cloth (or wet cotton ball). Using baby shampoo to wash the lashes may help get the crust off. Wash hands frequently to stop the spread of germs.
  • Allergic conjunctivitis: In someone exposed to an allergen, a red eyeball with watery drainage, itchy eyes and puffy eyelids means allergic conjunctivitis. Eye allergies that occur during the same season each year are caused by pollens. Allergies that are not seasonal may be caused by pets or other animals, feathers, perfumes, eye makeup, etc. Wash the pollen off the face and cool water to clean off the eyelids. (Tears will wash the pollen out of the eyes.) This rinse of the eyelids may need to be repeated every time your child comes in on a windy day. Pollen also collects in the hair and on exposed body surfaces. This pollen can easily be reintroduced into the eyes. Therefore, give your child a shower and shampoo every night before bedtime. Encourage your child not to touch his eyes unless his hands have been washed recently. Allergic conjunctivitis is treated with allergy medicines (both oral as well as eye drops for allergies) in addition to avoidance of allergens and washing.
  • Irritant: Shampoo, smoke, chlorine, food, soap, or animal saliva and other things in the eye can make the eye red. Rinsing the eye with saline, washing the lashes with a mild soap or baby shampoo, and putting a cool compress on the eye can help. The redness usually lasts less than 8 hours if the eye is cleared of the irritant.
  • Abrasion: If something scratches the eye, it starts out very painful and turns red, can become crusty. This needs to be seen by a physician for evaluation and treatment. It is treated with antibiotic drops until the scratch heals to prevent infection in the scratch, which could lead to an ulcer in the eye. Scratches typically heal within 2-3 days, and if not, should be seen by an eye specialist.
  • Foreign body in the eye: Eyelashes, sawdust, sand/dirt, or other objects can get into the eyes and cause irritation. The main symptom is irritation or pain.
  • Glass fragments in eye - With your child bending forward, try to get flakes of glass off the skin by blowing on the closed eyelids. A few pieces may be removed by touching them with a piece of Scotch tape. Pour water over the eyelids and face to get off any remaining glass. Cover the eyes with a wet washcloth and have your child seen by a doctor in our office or the emergency room or pediatric urgent care center as soon as possible (within an hour). The eye should not be rubbed.
  • Small particles in eye - If there are a lot of small particles in the eye (such as dirt or sand), clean around the eye with a wet washcloth first. Then have your child try to open and close the eye repeatedly while submerging that side of the face in a pan of water. If your child is too young to cooperate with this, hold him face up under a gently running warm water tap or pour warm water into the eye. The eyelids must be held open during the irrigation. If you are unable to remove the debris, have your child seen by a physician in our office or at an emergency room or pediatric urgent care center.
  • Particle in a corner of the eye - If the particle is in the corner of the eye, try to get it out with the corner of a clean handkerchief or a moistened cotton swab.
  • Particle under the lower lid - If the particle is under the lower eyelid, pull the lower lid out by depressing the cheek and touch the particle with a moistened cotton swab. If that doesn't work, try pouring water or saline on the speck while holding the lid out.
  • Particle under the upper lid - If the particle can't be seen, it's probably under the upper lid (the most common hiding place). Try having your child open and close the eye several times while his face is submerged in a cake pan or pie pan of water. If this fails, pull the upper lid out and draw it over the lower lid. This will sometimes dislodge the particle.

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Illnesses & Symptoms