SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center
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First Aid: Pinkeye

Pinkeye (or conjunctivitis) is an inflammation of the white part of the eye and the inner eyelids. It can be caused by allergies, irritating substances, or infection from a virus or bacteria.

Some kinds of pinkeye go away on their own, but others require treatment with antibiotics. When pinkeye is caused by an infection, it can be spread easily from person to person.

Signs and Symptoms

  • discomfort or feeling like something is in the eye
  • redness of the eye and inner eyelid
  • watery or pus-like liquid seeping from the eye
  • lashes matted or stuck together upon waking up
  • itchiness and tearing (common with allergic pinkeye)

What to Do

  • Call your doctor, particularly for a newborn (treatment may include antibiotic drops or ointment).
  • Carefully clean the eye area with warm water and gauze or cotton balls.
  • Put cool compresses on the eye.
  • Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve discomfort (check instructions for correct amount).

Seek Medical Care

If Your Child:

  • shows no improvement in 2 or 3 days if treated, or a week if untreated
  • has eye redness that worsens
  • has increasing swelling of the eyelids
  • complains of severe pain
  • experiences any change in vision
  • shows sensitivity to light
  • has ear pain (pinkeye and ear infections can happen at the same time)

Think Prevention!

Wash hands well and often, especially after touching eyes. Don't allow sharing of washcloths, towels, and pillowcases. Talk to your doctor if itchy, watery, or red eyes are a frequent problem — allergies might be the cause.

If certain household things seem to irritate the eyes, try:

  • dusting and vacuuming often
  • closing windows and doors when pollen is heavy
  • keeping scented or irritating chemicals (like household cleaners) to a minimum
  • avoiding secondhand smoke

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: April 2014