From causes to cures: A friendly guide to decoding conjunctivitis

Javeria Adenwalla
Javeria Adenwalla
Javeria is a writer, a yogi and an absolute lover of life. She reports live from the trenches of motherhood, stepping on metaphoric landmines, and sharing her experiences with unwavering optimism as she raises her three musketeers. Whenever life throws her off balance, she swivels back to zen mode with the power of yoga. When she’s not busy mastering the art of parenting,...
Created on Oct 30, 2023 · 7 mins read

Let’s face it, when it comes to parenthood, there’s always something lurking around the corner ready to pounce. Just when you think you’ve got this whole “raising tiny humans” thing down, boom – pink eye aka conjunctivitis strikes. And suddenly, you’re on a first-name basis with your child’s eye doctor, making trips to the pharmacy at all hours of the night, and trying to convince your little one that wearing an eye patch is actually cool.

Trust me, I’ve been there, and I know it’s not easy. Having a child with pink eye can be tough, but managing their discomfort doesn’t have to be! With a little humour and a lot of patience, you (and your child) can get through it and, who knows, maybe even see the funny side. Just kidding, there isn’t really a funny side but let’s roll up our sleeves and dive into the world of conjunctivitis.

First things first, before we start battling the notorious pink eye, let’s make sure we know what it is we’re fighting against.

What is conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis is the inflammation of the conjunctiva. Let’s break it down in a way that even my sleep-deprived, coffee-addled parent brain can handle: Conjunctivitis is when the part of the eye that’s supposed to keep it clean and shiny gets all riled up and inflamed. This can make your little one’s eye turn red, feel itchy, and even get all gunky with some icky discharge.

How do kids get pink eye?

Now, let’s get to the big question. How do kids get conjunctivitis? Well, there are three main ways that conjunctivitis spreads:

Bacterial infection 

Conjunctivitis caused by bacteria spreads through direct contact with contaminated hands, towels, or other objects. It is when someone with the infection touches their eye and then touches something else, like a doorknob or a toy, and then the bacteria lands on that object. The next child who touches that object is now exposed. Either they manage to hear their parent’s nagging voices at the back of their minds and avoid touching their eyes or mouth directly before sanitising or end up touching their own eye, and voila, they’ve caught the infection.

Viral infection

Conjunctivitis caused by viruses spreads through respiratory droplets, such as sneezing or coughing. Viral pink eye can spread the infection by coughing or sneezing near others or by touching their own eyes and then touching others. This is where we need to step up and teach our kids good respiratory etiquette, like coughing or sneezing into their elbow, to prevent its spread.

This reminds me of a little experiment I did with my kids. I was trying to teach them the importance of covering their mouths when sneezing or coughing. They seemed to understand the concept, but I wanted to find a way to really drive the message home. So, I grabbed a spray bottle filled with water and asked my kids to pretend they were sneezing without covering their mouths. When they did, I sprayed them with the water, shouting “germ invasion” as I did. I even went as far out as to make a slow-mo of the close-up to show them how the sneeze droplets can spread out when we don’t cover our mouth and also how effective it is when we do cover.  Soft Warning: Adjust the nozzle of the spray bottle to a minimum. We want them to get the gist and not develop a phobia against anyone daring to sneeze within proximity.

Allergic reaction

Conjunctivitis can also occur as a result of an allergic reaction. When a person comes into contact with an allergen, such as pollen, dust mites, or pet dander, the immune system may overreact and release histamines, which can cause inflammation and irritation in the eyes. This can also lead to symptoms such as redness, itching, and tearing, but allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious and cannot be spread from person to person.

As parents, we’re constantly juggling a million things to keep our kids healthy. But let’s be real, we can’t always control what our little mischief-makers get up to when they’re out and about. They could have easily picked it up from a playground, a friend’s house, or who knows where else! Kids will be kids, right? So don’t beat yourself up over it when it clearly looks like your little one has been handpicked by the pink eye fairy.

How long does conjunctivitis last in a child?

The thing about conjunctivitis is that how long it sticks around can really depend on what caused it. Bacterial conjunctivitis can last anywhere from a few days to two weeks, while viral conjunctivitis can really hang around for up to two or three weeks. But if it’s allergic conjunctivitis, that can last as long as the allergen is still around. So, keep an eye out for what might be triggering it, and hopefully, it won’t stick around too long.

Will conjunctivitis go away on its own?

The good news is that most cases of conjunctivitis go away on their own without treatment, but it’s essential to monitor your child’s symptoms and take appropriate measures to prevent the spread of infection.

How can I treat conjunctivitis in my toddler at home?

Now that you are armed with the knowledge of how conjunctivitis spreads and how long it can last, let’s get to the fun part – treating it at home! Here are some tried and tested home remedies that can help soothe your child’s symptoms:

Warm compress

Applying a warm compress to your child’s eyes can help reduce swelling and relieve discomfort. Soak a clean cloth in warm water, wring it out, and place it over your child’s eyes for 10 to 15 minutes.

Cold compress

Similarly, a cold compress can help reduce inflammation and relieve itching. Wrap a few ice cubes in a clean cloth and place it over your child’s eyes for a few minutes.

Eye drops

Over-the-counter eye drops can help reduce redness and relieve itching. But if your child’s conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria, your doctor may prescribe antibiotic eye drops. As tempting as it may be to bail on that antibiotic course once your little tyke starts feeling better than a ninja, stick with the plan (prescription) to the T and you’ll be giving those germs a knockout punch with no chance of a rebound.

Prevent spreading

Lastly, it’s crucial to prevent the spread of conjunctivitis. Encourage your child to wash their hands like they’re about to perform open-heart surgery and avoid touching their eyes. Make sure they don’t share towels, pillows, or other personal items with others. Sharing is caring but not when it comes to conjunctivitis.

Most cases can be taken care of right at home, but there are a few times when it’s best to seek out some professional help.

When to see a doctor?

If your child’s eye is extremely red or swollen, they’re experiencing severe pain or sensitivity to light, or they’re having vision changes, it’s definitely time to seek medical attention. Another sign is if your child’s symptoms have been going on for more than a week or two without improvement.

Final thoughts

Let me put it this way – conjunctivitis can be a real pain in the eye but fear not. With some insider knowledge and a few trusty tricks up your sleeve, you can get your little ones back to their lively and energetic selves in no time. Don’t forget to take steps to avoid the spread of this pesky infection, use some good old-fashioned home remedies to ease those symptoms, and if all else fails, don’t hesitate to call in the big guns (aka medical attention). With these tips, you’ll be a conjunctivitis-busting pro in the blink of an eye!

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