Saturday, March 13, 2010

The dreaded pink eye!

Ahh.. the dreaded pink eye. I used to not understand why this was such a big deal until my twins had to miss school and I got a worried call from the school nurse when I sent them back the next day...


Ok here's the deal about pink eye. Pink eye (conjuntivitis) is an inflammation of the conjuntiva of the eye. The conjuntiva is the inside of the lower lid and spreads over to the globe (white part of the eye). It can be caused by bacteria, viruses or allergens. It will resolve on its own without treatment.

The problem with bacterial conjutivitis is that it is contagious. It tends to spread in daycare and preschool settings very quickly. Because of this, it needs to be treated with antibiotic drops.

Symptoms of conjuntivitis are redness, irritation and discharge of the eye. Allergic conjuntivitis usually only happens when the person is around something they are allergic to and the discharge is usually clear (think itchy watery eyes). This is treated with allergy eye medications such as Patanol and is not contagious.

It is very difficult to distinguish bacterial from viral conjuntivitis so most people will treat it with antibiotic drops to prevent the spread. Usual symptoms are redness of the conjunctiva and green or yellow discharge from the eye. Most of the time the eye will be "stuck shut" in the morning and the drainage keeps coming back throughout the day. A small amount of drainage that happens once and does not come back is not pink eye.

The most common treatment for pink eye is antibiotic eye drops. You can also treat with antibiotic eye ointment but this is goopy and a lot of kids don't like it. However, some kids (like my older daughter) don't like eye drops and the ointment works better. Treatment length varies but is anywhere from 48 hours after the symptoms go away to 1 week.

Most schools and daycare centers will not allow a child to return to school until they have been treated for 24 hours. If your child gets pink eye and is not in school or daycare and their symptoms are mild it is perfectly acceptable to wait it out and not treat right away because it almost always gets better by itself within 3-4 days.

So.. you ask.. how is pink eye spread? Will I get pink eye by looking at the kid across the room who has it??

The answer is NO.

The way to prevent the spread of pink eye is to wash your hands. If you are the person with it then you need to try to avoid touching your face with your hands (yes I know it's difficult to get a toddler to do this) and wash your hands frequently. You should not share towels or washcloths until it is gone. If you are the caregiver then make sure to wash your hands frequently, especially after administering the eye drops. When you give the eye drops, try to avoid touching the tip of the bottle to the eye because you can contaminate it with the eye drainage.

Bottom line- don't panic if your child gets pink eye. It's very common. Just wash your hands and if your kid is in school or daycare, get them on treatment.

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