Back to school is often synonymous with little and big boo-boos that our children bring home. Among them is conjunctivitis. But what exactly is conjunctivitis? Here's how to recognize, treat, and avoid it as much as possible! 

What is conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis is an infection of the membrane covering the eyeball and the inside of the eyelid. A virus generally causes it but can also be due to bacteria.

What are the symptoms?

- Children with conjunctivitis complain of a scratching sensation in the eye.

- Their eyes may water a lot.

- The white of the eye is pinkish or reddish. The eyelid may also be slightly swollen.

- Pus or fluid that leaks out during sleep can make the eyelid sticky and may accumulate in the corner of the eye during periods of wakefulness.

How does conjunctivitis spread?

- Direct contact: When a child with conjunctivitis touches the discharge from the eye, then touches another child.

- Indirect contact: When another person's eyes come into contact an object contaminated with the virus, such as a tissue.

- Droplets: Conjunctivitis caused by a cold can also be transmitted by droplets propelled by a sneeze or cough.

How is conjunctivitis treated?

Conjunctivitis may require the administration of antibiotic drops or ointments, but treatment depends on the type of conjunctivitis.

Purulent conjunctivitis, generally caused by bacteria, gives the eye a pinkish or reddish appearance, causes a whitish or yellowish discharge, makes the eyelids sticky or red, and causes eye discomfort. It is treated with antibiotics (drops or ointment) that prevent disease transmission.

Non-purulent conjunctivitis occurs when the eyeball is pinkish or reddish, but the discharge is clear and liquid, with little or no discomfort. It is usually caused by a virus or other irritant (an allergy or exposure to a chemical such as chlorine in a swimming pool). Antibiotic drops do not work against this type of conjunctivitis.

When should I call my optometrist?

- Your baby has purulent conjunctivitis and is less than three months old.

- You think your child has conjunctivitis. It's difficult to tell whether bacteria or a virus causes the infection. Your doctor will know whether your child needs an antibiotic or other treatment.

- Your child is ill with a fever, has a rash or pain in the eye, or conjunctivitis always seems to reappear. Some serious illnesses may first appear as conjunctivitis.

How can I prevent conjunctivitis from spreading?

- Wipe tears or discharge from your child's eye from the inside out, always in the same direction. Use a clean piece of tissue every time you touch the infected eye.

- Wash your and your child's hands thoroughly after touching or wiping your child's eyes.

- Don't share towels or washcloths, as they can transmit the disease.

- If your child has viral conjunctivitis, they can return to daycare or school after consulting the optometrist. If they have bacterial conjunctivitis and are taking antibiotics, they should take them for 24 hours before returning. 

If you have any concerns or questions, consult an IRIS professional. They will be able to reassure you and treat your child's conjunctivitis.