Pink Eye and Your Child: Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention


cheryl-franco-author-banner-101613 My friend was recently concerned that her child might have pink eye and wondered if it was contagious. I informed my friend that pink eye is highly contagious and to call her child’s pediatrician. Her concern for her child is what inspired this blog topic, especially because many children (and even adults) contract pink eye at some point. It is important to know the signs and symptoms of pink eye, the treatment and ways to prevent spreading it to others.

What is Pink Eye and How Does it Spread?

Pink Eye and Your Child: Symptoms, Treatment & PreventionTo learn more about this condition, I received insight from Angela N. Buffenn, MD, pediatric ophthalmologist in The Vision Center at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. She explained, “Pink eye affects the transparent membrane (conjunctiva) that lines your eyelid and part of your eyeball.”

Pink eye can be spread very quickly and easily through direct contact with an infected person’s eye fluid or body fluids such as mucus from sneezing or a runny nose. You may also get pink eye indirectly if you or your child comes in contact with the infected person’s eye drainage on items like towels, pillowcases or sheets.

Different Types of Pink Eye and Treatment (Tweet this)

Did you know there are different types of pink eye? The four types of pink eye include:

  • Allergic pink eye
  • Bacterial pink eye
  • Sexually transmitted pink eye (e.g. chlamydia or gonorrhea)
  • Viral pink eye

Pink Eye Symptoms

Being able to recognize the symptoms of pink eye and getting treatment quickly can help prevent your child from getting worse and spreading it to others. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the symptoms of pink eye include:

  • Pink or red color in the white of the eye(s) (often one eye for bacterial and both eyes for viral or allergic conjunctivitis)
  • Swelling of the thin layer that lines the white part of the eye and inside of the eyelid
  • Increased tearing
  • Discharge of pus, especially yellow-green (more common in bacterial conjunctivitis)
  • Itching, irritation or burning
  • A feeling like an object is in the eye(s) or an urge to rub the eye(s)
  • Crusting of eyelids or lashes sometimes occurs, especially in the morning
  • Symptoms of cold, flu or other respiratory infection
  • Sensitivity to bright light
  • Enlargement and tenderness, in some cases, of the lymph node in front of the ear. This enlargement may feel like a small lump when touched. (Lymph nodes act as filters in the body, collecting and destroying viruses and bacteria)
  • Symptoms of allergy, such as an itchy nose, sneezing, scratchy throat or asthma may be present in cases of allergic pink eye


If you suspect that your child has pink eye, promptly make an appointment with his or her pediatrician or pediatric ophthalmologist to determine the appropriate treatment. Treatment may include:

  • Allergic pink eye: Your pediatrician may choose to treat the allergy with antihistamine medication. You may also apply cold compresses on your child’s eye if it becomes irritated.
  • Bacterial pink eye:  Your child’s pediatrician or pediatric ophthalmologist may prescribe an antibiotic ointment or drops. Always take the full course of antibiotics prescribed by your doctor even if the symptoms go away.
  • Sexually transmitted pink eye: This is most common in newborns if the mother had a vaginal birth with an active sexually transmitted disease. This type of pink eye would be treated with antibiotic ointment or drops.
  • Viral pink eye: Your child’s pediatrician may just want to monitor the pink eye symptoms for a week. The doctor may advise you to apply cold compresses to your child’s eye if it becomes irritated.

Prevent Pink Eye From Spreading to Others (Tweet this)

If you think your child has pink eye, take these precautions even before it is confirmed by their pediatrician or pediatric ophthalmologist:

  • Wash your child’s hands frequently
  • Remind your child not to touch his or her eyes
  • Do not allow your child to share pillows or towels and wash them in hot water daily
  • If your child is a pre-teen or teen, make sure they do not share mascara or any eye makeup. Throw away their eye makeup if their doctor diagnoses them with pink eye.
  • Ask your child’s doctor if you need to keep your child out of school or day care until the pink eye is treated.

For more information on pink eye or other common eye problems, please visit