Viral conjunctivitis can cause redness and tearing of the eye.
Viral conjunctivitis can cause redness and tearing of the eye.

Images of Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis) (1)

Viral conjunctivitis can cause redness and tearing of the eye.

Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis)

Pink eye (conjunctivitis) is an inflammation of the tissue on the surface of the eye and/or the inside lining of the eyelids. Common causes in children are usually due to infection with viruses or bacteria, allergies, or an environmental irritant such as chemicals, fumes, dust, or debris. Eye injury can also result in a pink/red eye that is bothersome to the child, sometimes causing visual problems as well.

Who's At Risk?

Pink eye is very common all over the world and has likely affected nearly all people at one time or another. There is a high rate of transmission of infectious conjunctivitis among children, as they often play in close proximity and share many items. Because children may not be aware of what irritates their eyes, they may routinely be exposed to allergens and irritants that cause conjunctivitis. An adult often needs to make the connection between the allergen or irritant and the reaction in a child.

Signs & Symptoms

  • The eye is usually pink to red and appears irritated.
  • Infectious conjunctivitis affects one or both eyes and may or may not be accompanied by discharge (tears, mucous, or pus). The lids may be stuck together in the morning upon waking, and goopy discharge may continue to accumulate through the day.
  • Allergic conjunctivitis usually affects both eyes and can cause tearing and frequent rubbing. The area around the eye may also be swollen from the constant rubbing. Sometimes the child will also have other allergic symptoms that come during the allergy seasons, such as a chronic runny nose, constant tickle in the throat, and sneezing.
  • Irritant conjunctivitis can cause burning, itching, a sandy or gravely feeling, and even pain in the eye.
  • Injury to the eye can cause tearing, pain, sensitivity to bright light, and changes in vision or loss of vision.

Self-Care Guidelines

  • Wash your child’s hands frequently so as not to contaminate yourself or others and so your child will not reinfect himself/herself.
  • Separate your child’s towels, washcloths, and blankets from the rest of the household so that others will not be at risk.
  • Cold compresses can sometimes help itching and swelling.
  • Wash the child’s eyelids very gently and soak off debris; do not pick at it.
  • It can be difficult to get a child to stop rubbing his/her eyes. However, over-the-counter medications should not be used in children without seeing a medical provider.
  • If your child’s eyes have been exposed to debris or an irritant, thoroughly irrigate the eye(s) with water for about 10–15 minutes with the eyelids open. This will be difficult in younger children.


Topical antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, or anti-allergy drops may all be prescribed by your child’s doctor. Even though the treatments may be difficult to put in the child’s eye(s), make sure to complete the full prescribed course. If the pink eye is related to another disease elsewhere in the body (such as allergies, ear infections, or respiratory disease), oral medications may be prescribed.

Visit Urgency

You should take your child to his/her doctor if:

  • Discharge from the eye is worsening.
  • There is severe pain or light sensitivity.
  • Swelling is increasing.
  • There are any problems with vision.
  • There is difficulty or inability to move the eye around.
  • There is blistering and/or rash on the eyelids.
  • There has been any injury to the eye.
  • The child has a prolonged scratching sensation.
  • The condition is not getting better within a week.
  • The child has a fever in addition to the pink eye.


Yanoff M, Duker JS, eds. Ophthalmology. 2nd ed, pp. 398-401, 404-411. St. Louis, MO: Mosby, 2004.

Last modified on August 16th, 2022 at 2:44 pm

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