Your child wakes up with red, inflamed eyes crying, "Mommy, my eyes hurt." Your heart sinks. Looks like pink eye. But what exactly is pink eye and how did your toddler end up with this condition in the first place?
Pink eye is the layman's term for conjunctivitis, usually an infection of the inside of the eyelids and the tissues that surround the eyes. The tissue that is situated in this area also overlays the whites of the eyes and when they are inflamed, the eyes appear to redden. In technical terms, conjunctivitis refers only to an inflammation of the tissues surrounding the eyes. That means that conjunctivitis can occur in response to allergies or because a chemical has splashed into the eyes. This article ,however, discusses only the infectious types of pink eye.
Pink eye can be due to bacteria or viruses. Viral pink eye is more often seen during the cold and flu season. As with other viral infections, antibiotics do no good at all for viral pink eye.
Bacterial pink eye does respond to antibiotics. Kids treated with antibiotics will be better within a couple of days. That said—most kids are able to fight off the infection without taking any medication. So, you really have a choice here: keep your toddler away from others and let him fight off the infection on his own, or give him drops so he gets better faster. Pink eye is contagious, so day care centers and schools won't permit your child's attendance while his infection is active.
Keep in mind though, that the contagion of the viruses that cause pink eye may not cause pink eye in another child. These are the same viruses that cause cold symptoms and diarrhea. Why it causes pink eye in one child, and a cough and runny nose in another has to do with how the virus was transmitted.
Kids who rub their eyes often are going to transmit these viruses to their eyes, while those who touch their noses or mouths are going to catch colds, instead. That means that just being in the same room with someone who has pink eye isn't going to make you catch it from him. It's important to teach your child to avoid rubbing his eyes and to wash his hands often so that he lowers his risk for catching or giving pink eye to others.
It's also very common to discover that a child with bacterial pink eye has an ear infection as well. Yes, you guessed right—it's the same bacteria, different method of transmission. Kids just can't resist touching their faces and tugging on their ears. Maybe this is one of the ways that nature helps kids build up their immunity while they are still young.