Conjunctivitis: A simple guide for Parents

What is Conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis is a condition very commonly seen in pharmacies and children are quite susceptible to acquiring it, mainly because of its highly contagious nature. It is an inflammation of the conjunctiva which is the thin membrane that covers your eyes and lines the inside of your eyelids. Conjunctivitis is more annoying than it is serious and can be easily treated and prevented in children.

Causes:

Conjunctivitis is caused by more than one particular thing and the most common causes likely to seen include:

Viruses

Bacteria

Allergens (including pollens and grasses)

Chemicals and Irritants

Another cause, more specifically for babies, is a blocked tear drainage system which increases the risk of a bacterial infection in that area.

Symptoms:

The symptoms of conjunctivitis are very important because they can tell you the likely cause and future prevention of such causes affecting your child.

Irritated, itchy, red/pink eyes (When the conjunctiva is irritated, the eye’s blood vessels enlarge, making the eye appear red/pink)

Clear, thin, watery discharge (usually seen in viral and allergic causes)

Thick, yellow or green discharge (usually seen in bacterial causes)

Points to remember:

Bacterial causes tends to affect both eyes

Allergic causes may be associated with a history of allergies such as hay fever, eczema or asthma.

If the symptoms have been present for a while, this gives a clue to an allergic cause and it is often very itchy.

There should be NO problems with vision.

How do you catch it and how common is it?

Most cases of conjunctivitis due to either bacteria or viruses are contagious. Infection can be spread from one eye to the other (usually in bacterial causes) by touching it. The bugs can be transmitted to your eye by touching contaminated towels, handkerchiefs or hands etc.

It is very common in small children.

What do you do when you suspect your child has conjunctivitis?

You can take your child to a pharmacy where a Pharmacist can diagnose it and possibly treat it. However you will need to visit a GP in more serious cases who will take a medical history, examine the eye and eventually diagnose the cause (or underlying condition) and recommend medication or measures to both treat it and prevent it from reoccurring.

 

Treatment:

Specific treatment depends on the underlying cause of the conjunctivitis.

Bacterial causes are treated with antibiotic eye drops or ointment prescribed by your doctor.

Viral causes are not helped with antibiotic drops. Here the conjunctivitis usually goes away on its own.

Allergic causes are usually treated with antihistamine, syrup and special anti-allergy drops.

Prevention:

Wash hands more often and make sure they are kept away from the eyes.

Avoid sharing pillows, towels and bed linen.

Don’t send babies or children to pre-school until 48 hours after treatment and when the eye has stopped weeping.