You rub and rub your eyes, but they won't stop itching. When you look in the mirror,
they are red and puffy. What's going on? Do you have a strange sickness? No —
you have a common problem called conjunctivitis. Most people call it pinkeye.
What Is Conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis (say: kon-junk-tih-VY-tis) is the most common eye
problem kids can have. It can cause redness; itching; inflammation (say: in-fla-MAY-shun)
or swelling; and a clear or white, yellow, or greenish gooey liquid to collect in
It's called pinkeye because the white part of the eye and inside the eyelids become
red or pink when you have it. Pinkeye may start in one eye, but many people get conjunctivitis
in both eyes at the same time. Conjunctivitis usually doesn't hurt, but itching can
be annoying. Sometimes it feels like you have an eyelash or a speck of sand in your
eye and can't get it out.
Adults, especially parents and teachers who spend a lot of time with kids, can
get conjunctivitis too. Conjunctivitis lasts a short time, usually about a week or
less, and then goes away by itself or after treatment.
How Do I Get Conjunctivitis?
Kids get conjunctivitis for different reasons. Most kids get it from bacteria
(say: bak-TEER-ee-uh) or viruses. This is called infectious (say:
in-FEK-shus) conjunctivitis. Bacteria can be seen only with a powerful microscope,
and viruses are even smaller than bacteria! Bacteria live on your skin
or in your nose or mouth all the time and you never know it. Most don't ever bother
you, but certain kinds of bacteria can cause infections like conjunctivitis.
Sometimes kids get ear
infections when they have conjunctivitis because the same bacteria can cause both
Viruses, like the kind that can give you a cold, can cause conjunctivitis, too.
Conjunctivitis is easy to catch just through touching. You can get conjunctivitis
by touching the hand of an infected friend who has touched his or her eyes. If you
then touch your eyes, the infection can be spread to you. Washing
your hands often with warm, soapy water is the best way to avoid being infected
Kids also get conjunctivitis because of allergies
or because they get something irritating in their eyes, but these kinds of conjunctivitis
are not contagious.
What Should I Do if I Think I Have It?
If your eyes are itchy, red, or more crusty than usual in the morning, you should
tell a parent. Don't wait, because conjunctivitis spreads easily. Your mom or dad
probably will call the doctor
for an appointment. Wash your hands often, the infection can spread from one eye to
What Will the Doctor Do?
No one knows exactly how many kids get conjunctivitis each year but your doctor
treats many who have it and can spot it pretty quickly. The doctor also will ask you
if your eyes have been red and itchy lately or if you have noticed any goopy stuff
in your eyes. It's important to tell the doctor if you know anyone, like a brother
or a friend, who has red and itchy eyes too.
Your doctor will know if you have conjunctivitis by looking carefully at your eyes
to see if they are red and if any liquid is coming from them. The doctor will want
to know that you can see OK and that nothing has gotten into your eye. Finally, your
doctor may examine your ears to see if you have an ear infection caused by the same
bacteria that can cause conjunctivitis.
If you have conjunctivitis caused by bacteria, the doctor probably will prescribe
antibiotic eye drops or ointment for you. Babies are usually given the ointment and
kids and adults get the eye drops. Your mom or dad can help you put the medication
in your eyes a couple of times a day for about a week. It's important to use whatever
the doctor prescribes so the infection doesn't come back. Unfortunately, these drops
won't work if a virus is causing your conjunctivitis. If allergies are causing your
itchy, red eyes, the doctor may prescribe special eye drops to help with these allergy
If your eyes are bothering you, try using a cool or warm washcloth on your eyes.
Sometimes, your mom or dad can make you feel better by gently cleaning your eyes with
warm water and cotton balls to remove the gooey liquid or crusty stuff. They should
be very careful to wash their hands and throw out the cotton balls they use. Washcloths
and towels used to clean or dry your eyes should go right into the laundry so no one
else gets infected.
Most schools in the United States require a note from a doctor for a kid with pinkeye
to return to school. Kids can usually return to school after their first 24 hours
of antibiotic eye drops.
Though it might be tough, try not to touch your eyes and remember to wash your
hands often. These two things will help keep pinkeye from spreading to your friends
and family members. They will appreciate it!