Red, itchy, burning eyes are the most common symptoms of conjunctivitis. When properly treated, conjunctivitis causes no long-term sequelae in children. Conjunctivitis can seem alarming, as it causes intense redness of the eyes and sometimes pain in children. It's important to recognize the signs and symptoms of conjunctivitis. 

Although some conjunctivitis can heal on its own, it's always advisable to consult or ask your optometrist as soon as the first symptoms appear to ensure proper treatment. 

What is conjunctivitis, and what causes it?

Conjunctivitis, also known as "pink eye," is an inflammation of the membrane that covers the eye and the inside of the eyelid. The inflammatory reaction causes the blood vessels in the eye to dilate, giving it a reddish colour.

There are four types of conjunctivitis: bacterial, viral, allergic and chemical. Bacterial conjunctivitis often affects only one eye, causing a greenish or yellowish discharge. Viral conjunctivitis is the most common, causing little or no discharge. Unlike bacterial conjunctivitis, viral conjunctivitis often affects both eyes. Allergic conjunctivitis is often caused by allergies to pollen or ragweed. It is usually accompanied by other symptoms such as sneezing and runny nose. Finally, chemical conjunctivitis is caused by certain irritating substances, such as swimming pool chlorine and smoke.

What are the symptoms of conjunctivitis?

The most common symptoms of conjunctivitis are redness of the eye and eyelid, an itchy or burning eye, discharge from the eye (clear, yellow or green), sensitivity to light, eyelids that stick together (especially on waking) and a swollen eyelid. These symptoms can occur in one or both eyes. 

How is conjunctivitis treated?

The first thing to determine before treating conjunctivitis is the source of the infection. It is, therefore, important to take the child to the optometrist to determine whether the infection is allergic, viral or bacterial.

In the case of bacterial conjunctivitis, the optometrist will prescribe antibiotic drops or ointment. The medication must be used until the end of the prescribed treatment, even if the symptoms disappear. If the child has a viral infection, there is no point in prescribing antibiotics, as they are not effective against viruses. Finally, in the case of allergic conjunctivitis, the doctor may recommend antihistamine drops.

Applying compresses of lukewarm water can relieve the child's itching. The compress can also help clean the eye and open eyelids that are stuck together on waking due to secretions. For teenagers, it's important not to wear contact lenses until the conjunctivitis has healed. Make-up such as mascara should not be applied to the eyes while symptoms are still present.

How can conjunctivitis be prevented?

Viral conjunctivitis is very contagious, so adopting good hygiene habits is essential. Wash your hands before and after touching your child's eyes. You should also avoid sharing or reusing facecloths and towels used to wipe your child's eyes.

Conjunctivitis can also be transmitted from one eye to the other. It's important to explain to your child the importance of avoiding touching their eyes and washing their hands every time they touch the infected eye.