Conjunctivitis is very common among children, possibly because children come into contact with more infections at school. If you are unfortunate enough to find your child looking back at you with red, sore eyes, you need to figure out what’s causing the problem, and if it’s an inflammation, you need to take action before it gets worse.
Conjunctivitis is an inflammatory condition affecting the conjunctiva – the clear membrane that covers the white of the eye. It can be caused by infection, irritation or allergy. The highly contagious type that sometimes arrives home from school is the infective type.
Infective conjunctivitis can be caused by either bacteria or a virus. In the case of bacteria, the eye discharge is thicker and more pus-like, and the discharge can sometimes crust around the eye, making it hard for the child to open their eyes. If it’s caused by a virus, you generally see a watery discharge from the eye, and the symptoms include sore, gritty red eyes that are watering and have a distinct sticky coating.
Conjunctivitis caused by irritation is exactly that – it’s the sore, red, itchy eye you get when things like lashes or dirt get lodged in the eye and irritate it.
Finally, allergic conjunctivitis is seen typically in the hay-fever season, and it causes discomfort and watering.
Differentiating between allergic and infective can be difficult, so it is a good idea to see your GP if you think your child could have an eye infection.
What to do
If your child has infective conjunctivitis, keeping their eyes clean is the main priority. As the condition is can be passed on so easily, lots of handwashing is required. Ensuring the eye is cleaned often will also help.
Cleansing with cool boiled water and cotton wool can help alleviate the stickiness. Wipe from the inner corner outwards and then dispose this will eliminate the risk of further contamination. It is important to only use one cotton ball per eye – you don’t want to introduce the infection from one eye into the other! Cotton buds soaked in cooled boiling water can also be useful for cleaning along the lash line.
Some eye-cleansing products can be helpful. Disposable wipes are individually wrapped and can be used on the eyelids for cleansing. The key with all cleansing is to use one per eye and wipe only in one direction.
With smaller children, it can be hard to stop them from rubbing the eyes, so it can be helpful to try to clean their hands often too.
As with anything contagious infection, it is really important not to share towels and to wash pillowcases, sheets and wash cloths in a hot wash frequently. Along with this, any teddies or blankets the child would have near their face will need a trip to the washing machine.
Your GP may prescribe antibiotic eye drops. Before and after administering the drops, it is important to wash the hands. To administer the drops, pull down the lower lid to open the pocket between the eye and the lower lid and drop the liquid inside, taking care not to touch the eye using the bottle.
This may sound simple, but the reality will probably be much different! We all know that when a liquid is heading for your eyeball, your reflex action is to close the eye. Administering drops into younger children is certainly something that will require a team wrestling effort.
Thankfully, within a few days the condition will go as quickly as it came, and the only eye sore remaining will be the pile of washing left from its aftermath!