What you need to know

  • Conjunctivitis is common in kids and is very contagious. 
  • Good hygiene, like proper hand-washing, can help prevent conjunctivitis and limit the spread to others.
  • You can usually manage your child's symptoms at home, but take them to the doctor if they're unwell, in pain or you are worried about them.

Symptoms

Conjunctivitis is usually caused by an infection (virus or bacteria), or allergies and is highly contagious. Your child may have any of the following symptoms which can last from two days to three weeks: 

  • redness of the white part of the eye 
  • irritation or gritty feeling (like having sand in the eye) 
  • discharge (may be clear, milky or pus-like) 
  • more tears than usual 
  • swelling of the eyelids 
  • crusting of the eyelids or eyelashes 
  • itchiness.

Keep your child at home and away from daycare or preschool until their eyes are better, since conjunctivitis spreads easily.

Care at home

You can help relieve some of your child’s conjunctivitis symptoms at home. Here are some tips: 

  • gently clean away the discharge from the eye with a clean cotton ball soaked in warm water. Use a different cotton ball for each eye and wipe from the inside to the outside of your child’s eye 
  • place a clean, cold cloth over the eyes to reduce swelling and irritation  
  • practise good hygiene 
    • Wash hands carefully for 20 seconds after contact with infected eyes 
    • Try to discourage your child from touching their eyes 
  • wash pillowcases and towels often and don’t share them, as it could spread the infection.

Sticky eyes

Many newborn and young babies have sticky eye, which is a blockage in their tear ducts. As the blockage clears, a discharge or crust will develop in the eye, which can look like conjunctivitis and last for a month or more. The treatment is similar to conjunctivitis, however antibiotic drops are not required.  

If you have concerns about your baby's eyes, talk to your lead maternity carer, or GP.

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if your child:

  • is less than six weeks old 
  • has moderate to severe eye pain 
  • sensitivity to light  
  • blurry or reduced vision 
  • any injury to the eye (such as being hit or scratched) 
  • chemicals in the eye 
  • a fever or is generally unwell 
  • increased swelling, redness, and tenderness in the eyelids and around the eye. 

A doctor will determine what type of conjunctivitis your child has (allergic or bacterial)Antibacterial drops may be prescribed and need to be administered to both eyes. Continue to use the drops two days after the discharge has stopped.

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