Causes of Pink Eye in Children

Causes of Pink Eye in Children

According to a study published in the American Journal of Infection Control, around 3 million school days are missed annually by children due to Conjunctivitis or the pink eye. Pink eye is a very common infectious disease which usually has been observed to spread more in preschools and playgrounds but adults also fall victims to it.

What is Conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis is a term used to describe the inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin membrane that covers the inside of the eyelids and the white part of the eye. This lining is clear and if irritation or infection occurs the line becomes swollen or red. It is a very common infection and typically goes away in 7-10 days.

Is Pink Eye Contagious?

Pink Eye is contagious if it caused by a

  • Bacterial Infection
  • Viral Infection

Other non-infectious causes of conjunctivitis are

  • Allergy
  • Dry tears from lack of exposure to the wind and the sun.
  • Chemicals and air pollution

Conjunctivitis in Newborns

Newborns are at a serious health risk if the expecting mother has STD during pregnancy. During delivery, the virus can pass from the birth canal to the baby eyes resulting in pink eye. In order to prevent it, the doctors give a dose of eye drops to prevent it. It is advised that all expecting mothers should get screened for STD during pregnancy to prevent this condition.

Causes of Conjunctivitis in Children

  • Bacteria – When bacteria like staphylococcus, streptococcus or homophiles enter the eye or the area around the eye it causes swelling of the conjunctiva and redness. There will be a thick yellow discharge which will cause the eyelids to stick and swell.

Treatment for Bacterial Conjunctivitis – The doctors will recommend an antibacterial ointment or some eye drops that will help fight the bacterial infection. It is important that the full duration/course of the medication is completed so that the infection doesn’t come back. The infected child should be quarantined and should stay away from other siblings and family members.

The discharge should be cleaned and wiped away at regular intervals or else the unclean infected area becomes a breeding ground for more bacteria. It is recommended that the infected area is washed with warm water as it will have a soothing effect.


  • Viral Infection – Viral Pink eye is caused by a common respiratory virus that is also the culprit behind a sore throat or common cold. The virus to blame here is called adenovirus. The symptoms include
  1. Thick white discharge from the eyes
  2. Swelling and redness in the front areas of the ears
  3. Tearing
  4. Itching and redness in the eyes

Treatment – Since it is a viral infection, no medication is given if the symptoms and degree of severity are acute. The symptoms begin to improve in 3-5 days and the child can return to daycare/school. Since no medication is given, a lot of care and precaution has to be taken to prevent the spread of this disease.

This disease has been observed to be more prevalent in children who wear contact lenses.

  • Allergy – If your child’s eyes are red, swollen, itchy and have a runny nose then he/she is having an allergic reaction to some irritant (pollen, smoke, animal hair/fur etc.). The trick is to figure out what exactly is the child allergic to.

Treatment – The doctor will help you identify the allergen and recommend you to maintain an allergen free environment at home. Anti-allergic medication will be prescribed which should be discarded after the course has been completed. This type of pink eye is not infectious hence the child can continue going to school if he/she feels better. A cool compress will also help the child feel better.

How to Prevent Conjunctivitis?

  • Make sure that your child washes hands frequently.
  • If one child is infected, make sure he is quarantined so that the others are not infected.
  • If the child wears contact lens, then discontinue use till the condition is fully treated. Disinfect the contact lens and contact case at least twice before your child starts using it again.
  • Make sure that your child doesn’t share towels, wash cloths or makeup with others.

The author is a Medical Microbiologist and a healthcare writer. She is a post-graduate of Medical Microbiology and Immunology. She covers all content on health and wellness including weight loss, nutrition, and general health.

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