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First Aid: Pinkeye

Reviewed by: Melanie L. Pitone, MD
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First Aid

Pinkeye (or conjunctivitis) is 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 need treatment with antibiotics. Pinkeye that's caused by an infection can 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, especially if your child is a newborn. If it looks like a bacterial infection, treatment may include antibiotic drops or ointment.
  • Carefully clean the eye area with warm water and gauze or cotton balls.
  • Gently put cool compresses on the eye.
  • If your doctor suggests it, give acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve discomfort (check label instructions for the correct dose). Don't give ibuprofen to an infant younger than 6 months old.

Get Medical Care if Your Child:

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

Think Prevention!

Teach kids to wash their hands well and often. Don't share eye ointment, washcloths, towels, and pillowcases. Talk to your doctor if itchy, watery, or red eyes are a frequent problem — allergies might be the cause.

If some household things seem to irritate the eyes:

  • Dust and vacuum often.
  • Close windows and doors when pollen is heavy.
  • Keep scented or irritating chemicals (like household cleaners) to a minimum.
  • Avoid secondhand smoke.
Reviewed by: Melanie L. Pitone, MD
Date reviewed: July 2022