As children prepare to return to school, it’s important to note that August is Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month. Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is a common eye condition in school-aged children. Most cases of pink eye do not require antibiotics but are often misdiagnosed, and treating them can contribute to antibiotic resistance.
What Is Conjunctivitis or Pink Eye?
School-aged children frequently contract contagious illnesses like the common cold, strep throat and pink eye. Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, develops when infection or allergies irritate the conjunctiva, the clear tissue that covers the inside of the eyelids and the front of the eye. Typical symptoms of pink eye include the following:
- Redness in the inner eyelid or white of the eye
- Increase in tear production
- Swollen eyelids
- Gritty sensation in one or both eyes
- Feeling like there is a foreign object in the eyes
- Blurred vision
- Increased sensitivity to light
What Type of Pink Eye Does Your Child Have?
If children exhibit symptoms of pink eye, contact your ophthalmologist. They may have developed one of three types of conjunctivitis: viral, bacterial or allergic.
Viral conjunctivitis is the most common type of pink eye. Often occurring in conjunction with a cold, respiratory infection or the flu, viral pink eye can begin in one eye and spread to the other. It is highly contagious and can easily transmit in schools and populated areas. Children can spread viral pink eye as long as they have symptoms and even before they display them.
Bacterial conjunctivitis is also very contagious. It often causes sore, red eyes with a thick discharge that causes the eyelids to crust and stick together. Sometimes, bacterial conjunctivitis develops along with an ear infection or strep throat.
Allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious. It develops due to an allergic reaction to an environmental irritant like animal dander, pollen, pool chlorine or cigarette smoke. Although allergic conjunctivitis is not transmittable, it can cause inflammation, itching and redness.
Treating Your Child’s Conjunctivitis
Most cases of pink eye develop from viruses or allergies and do not respond to antibiotics. Viral conjunctivitis usually improves in one to two weeks without treatment. Although bacterial conjunctivitis responds to antibiotic eye drops, most cases of bacterial pink eye are mild and improve within a week or two without medication.
Unfortunately, doctors over-prescribe antibiotics for pink eye symptoms. A study by the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center found that 60 percent of patients with conjunctivitis symptoms receive a prescription for antibiotics, even though antibiotics are rarely necessary. In addition, about 20 percent receive antibiotic steroid drops, which can worsen the infection and cause antibiotic resistance.
Call Your Eye Doctor if Your Child Has Pink Eye Symptoms.
You may be tempted to take your child to a walk-in clinic and ask for an antibiotic, but call your eye doctor first. Your eye doctor can suggest ways to help your child stay comfortable and prevent infection from spreading to other family members.
Celebrate Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month by scheduling a yearly comprehensive eye exam for your family. Consider making the appointment around the time school begins so that it will become an annual tradition! Clear vision is essential for children to be successful in school, so call today.