Pink Eye in Infants

Susie McGee
crying baby

Pink eye in infants is certainly cause for concern among parents. How serious is this condition? When should you seek medical help?

Causes of Pink Eye in Infants

Pink eye in infants can occur for a variety of reasons. In some cases, a baby can develop pink eye due to a bacterial or viral infection. However, this condition can also be caused by a reaction to common chemicals or because of a variety of allergens. In some instances, pink eye develops simply because of a child's blocked tear duct.

Bacterial Conjunctivitis

In a vast majority of cases involving pink eye, the primary culprit is bacterial conjunctivitis. A child with bacterial conjunctivitis may also develop an ear infection since the same bacteria can affect both the eyes and the ears.

Symptoms include redness in the eye and the eye's surrounding area, matting, a yellow-green discharge, itching, and/or burning. The most common treatment is topical antibiotic eye drops or ointment, but some physicians prescribe oral antibiotics which are either used alone or along with the eye drops.

Viral Conjunctivitis

Pink eye that is caused by viral conjunctivitis is often accompanied by other symptoms, such as a cough, runny nose, and sore throat. Enlarged lymph nodes may also be noticed.

The most common symptom is eye redness, but as noted above, other symptoms associated with respiratory tract infections may be noted. In addition, symptoms could include clear or white discharge, watery eyes, itching, and irritation. Although there isn't a cure for viral conjunctivitis, eye drops or ointment may be prescribed to reduce irritation and itching.

Allergic Conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis is typically associated with an allergic reaction to chemicals found in common household items, including cosmetics, cleaners, etc.

In addition to eye redness, symptoms can include watery eyes, swollen eyelids, itching, and irritation. To reduce irritation, topical eye drops or ointments and cool compresses are often prescribed.

Other Serious Causes

Pink eye in infants may develop because of more serious causes, including the existence of gonorrhea or Chlamydia, which are STDs that can be transmitted by the mother. Another serious condition that could be indicated by pink eye is glaucoma. However, there are other less serious causes, including the following:

  • Eye injury-A red eye may simply be due to foreign matter in the eye or an eye injury.
  • Reaction to eye drops-Because silver nitrate drops are typically put in newborns' eyes to prevent infection, it is common for eye irritation and eye redness to occur.
  • Blocked tear duct-In many cases, repeated episodes of pink eye in babies is due to a blocked tear duct.

What to Do

If your infant appears to have pink eye, what should you do?

  • The most important step you can take is to contact your physician. He'll also want to know about any other symptoms you've noticed, such as a runny nose, cough, or swollen lymph nodes. Once your pediatrician determines the cause of the pink eye, treatment can be started.
  • Keep your baby as comfortable as possible by keeping the eye clean and applying warm compresses for relief of itching and irritation.
  • Try to keep your baby's hands away from her eyes, and keep her hands as clean as possible as well.

Applying Eye Drops

While applying an ointment to your infant's eyes usually isn't difficult, applying eye drops to a squirming baby can take a bit more finesse.

  • The first step you need to take is to make your baby feel as secure as possible. Hold her firmly in your arms so that her head rests in the crook of your arm.
  • It will help if you have someone else who can actually apply the drops, but this isn't absolutely necessary.
  • Next, tilt your arms so that your baby's head is lower than the rest of her body.
  • Now, gently tug the bottom of her eye down, and apply the eye drops to the corner of her eye.

Finally, talk to your doctor about what options are available for treating your infant's pink eye.

Pink Eye in Infants