What’s this? Would you believe that three million school days are lost thanks to conjunctivitis, aka “pinkeye”? That’s because this swelling of the conjunctiva (the filmy membrane covering the inside of eyelids and the whites of the eye) is super-contagious. Symptoms of reddish or pink discoloration, discharge, burning, irritation and/or crusty lashes can be caused by a virus (the same one as the common cold), a bacterial infection or an allergic reaction.
What’s the best treatment? For viral conjunctivitis, symptoms can last one to two weeks and will disappear without treatment. Longer than two weeks, it’s likely a bacterial infection that may require a prescription for antibiotic eyedrops from your pediatrician. For allergies, a cool compress on the eyes will provide some comfort.
The best medicine for pinkeye is really prevention. Children in daycare and preschool are particularly susceptible because they’re in such close contact with other kids. Healthy habits such as frequent hand washing, avoiding reuse of towels and washcloths, changing pillowcases and discouraging your child from touching his eyes are the best defenses against pinkeye. “Hand hygiene is the most important thing,” says Avery Weiss, MD, chief of ophthalmology at Seattle Children’s Hospital and professor of ophthalmology at the University of Washington School of Medicine. “If your child does get pinkeye, keep him out of daycare!”