My child’s eyelids are pink and crusty. Could he have conjunctivitis?
If the whites of one or both of your child’s eyes and the lower rim of his eyelids are red, chances are he has an infection called conjunctivitis, also known as pinkeye or red-eye. The infection occurs when a virus, some bacteria, an allergen, or some other substance inflames the transparent membrane covering the white of the eyes and the inside of the eyelids (the conjunctiva). As your child’s system tries to fight the infection, his eyes may tear or become crusty. It’s important that you treat the infection promptly, so call your child’s doctor as soon as you notice these symptoms.

How can I find out what’s causing the infection?
The doctor will examine your child’s eyes and ask about his symptoms. Here are some possibilities:

  • If your child’s eyes are producing a thick yellow discharge that causes his eyelids to swell or stick together, bacteria such as staphylococcus, streptococcus, or hemophilus are probably to blame.
  • If your child has conjunctivitis as well as cold symptoms, then the infection is more likely to be viral.
  • If your child’s eyes seem itchy and swollen as well as watery and bloodshot and he has a runny nose, he may be having an allergic reaction to an irritant such as dust, pollen, or smoke. An allergic reaction doesn’t stem from an infection, but it could become one if your child continues to be exposed to the irritant.

How can I treat conjunctivitis?
Bacterial conjunctivitis
If bacterial conjunctivitis is the culprit, your doctor will prescribe antibiotic ointment or drops for you to use on your child’s eyes for about seven days. You may find the ointment easier to apply than drops: Wash your hands, then gently pull your child’s lower eyelid down a little bit and run a ribbon of ointment along it. (The ointment falls away from the tube as you squeeze, so you just need good aim.) When your child blinks, the ointment will get into his eye. If you’re using drops, aim them at the inside corner of your child’s eye. This may be easiest to do this when his eye is shut. When he opens it, the medicine will run into his eye. Wash your hands before and after treating your child’s eyes. Never share medications or use an old medication. They’re not likely to be sterile and could make the infection worse. Your doctor will probably also recommend washing your child’s eyes with warm water and gently rubbing away the dried discharge, since a buildup of infected fluid can make antibiotics less effective. Make sure you use the full prescribed course of antibiotics even after the symptoms are gone; otherwise, the infection might return.

Viral conjunctivitis
Viral conjunctivitis usually clears up on its own in a week or so. Your doctor will advise you to keep the area clean by gently washing your child’s eyes with warm water and rubbing away the dried discharge. If your child’s eyes haven’t improved after two weeks, let your doctor know.

Warning: Bacterial and viral conjunctivitis are extremely contagious. To keep this kind of infection from spreading, you’ll need to wash your hands after every contact with your child’s eyes. Keep his towels, clothing, and bedding separate from yours, and wash these items regularly. The infection will continue to be contagious until the symptoms are gone, so if your child goes to a daycare facility or preschool, you’ll need to keep him home until then.

Allergic conjunctivitis
Since allergic conjunctivitis is the result of your child’s having been exposed to an irritating substance, you need to identify the allergen and keep him away from it. See our allergies article for tips on how to keep your home allergen-free. If your child’s eyes are making him uncomfortable, you can soothe them with over-the-counter or prescription eyedrops made especially for allergic conjunctivitis.


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