Conjunctivitis, symptoms and treatments
Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the thin membrane that covers the eyeball. The most common cause of conjunctivitis is bacteria or a viral infection. Infective conjunctivitis can occur at any age, however infants are more susceptible.
How will I know if my child has infective conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis usually starts in one eye and spreads to the other, it causes sore red eyes and a discharge. Plus, it may cause inflammation of the eyelids with redness, irritation, drying and flaking of the skin around the eyes.
Often, conjunctivitis causes a thick yellow or white discharge, this is bacterial conjunctivitis. The eyelashes may stick together, making it difficult for your child to open their eyes.
Also, a watery discharge is common with viral conjunctivitis and is often associated with swollen glands and cold symptoms.
What else could be causing this?
Sometimes newborn babies develop conjunctivitis due to an infection like gonorrhoea or chlamydia obtained from the mother during birth, known as (neonatal conjunctivitis).
This is noticeable as a discharge coming from the eye about one week after birth. If your baby is under 2 months old and you suspect they have this, you should contact your doctor straight away.
Allergic conjunctivitis or irritation of the eye can have different causes, including pollen (hay fever), animal hair, dust, preservatives used in eye drops, and chemicals such as paint and solvents. These usually affect both eyes at the same time, causing red runny eyes, itching of the eyes and nose, a nasal discharge and sneezing.
An object stuck in the eye may produce similar symptoms. If you suspect there may be something stuck in your child’s eye, a doctor will need to stain the eye with fluorescein dye so that they can see the object and carefully remove it.
One type of conjunctivitis (infectious keratitis) can cause a sensation of having something in the eye that is so severe and painful it is difficult to open the eyes. If left untreated, permanent damage to the vision may occur. If your baby is in pain then you may need to seek medical help immediately.
How long does it last?
The infection usually resolves itself and does not cause any serious harm. Symptoms should generally improve within 2 to 3 days but viral conjunctivitis may last for 2 to 3 weeks. Therefore, good hygiene is really important to prevent further spread and help prevent infection. Always wash hands before and after touching your child’s eyes, and always use separate face cloths and towels until the infection has cleared away.
How do I treat it?
Often conjunctivitis will resolve spontaneously within 2 to 3 days. However, carefully cleansing the eyes may be soothing and will remove any sticky discharge. If it’s severe, persists for more than 3 days, or your child is very young you should consult a doctor.
If the doctor suspects it is due to a viral infection, treatment may not be necessary. If a bacterial infection is suspected your doctor or pharmacist may recommend antibacterial eye drops or ointment.
Most eye drops contain an antibiotic called chloramphenicol, and are suitable for children over 2 years only, so if the drops are for a baby make sure they’re suitable.