Conjunctivitis in Children: What to Do
Conjunctivitis in children can have various causes: Bacteria, viruses, allergic processes, and foreign bodies entering the eye. If you notice any sign of eye discomfort in your child, it's important to see a pediatrician as soon as possible.
Conjunctivitis in children and adults is a disease that responds to inflammation of the conjunctive layer. This transparent mucous membrane lines the eye and, when inflamed, causes itchy, red eyes. However, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, it usually doesn’t impair vision.
Contrary to various popular beliefs, conjunctivitis can have many causes besides bacterial infections. Viruses, allergic reactions, trauma, contact lens wear, and even insomnia can also be factors.
Also, in the case of children, it’s important to take special care when dealing with the condition. Some organizations warn that conjunctivitis is one of the most common diseases of childhood.
However, don’t worry, because we’re here to tell you how to deal with it.
What is conjunctivitis in children?
As we said before, conjunctivitis refers to the inflammation of the ocular conjunctive layer. According to sources specializing in ophthalmology, it usually affects both eyes at the same time. However, it can also affect just one eye.
Scientific studies show us that in children between one and nine years of age it’s the most common eye disease. Of all the pediatric visits for eye discomfort, almost 41% correspond to conjunctivitis, while 30% have to do with injury.
Conjunctivitis is frequent in childhood, but bacteria aren’t the only cause.
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Symptoms of conjunctivitis in children
Once we’ve framed the nature of this disease and its prevalence in infants, it’s time to talk about how to detect it. Pediatric sources, such as Kidshealth, help us do this by listing the symptoms in children. These include the following:
- Redness of the eye
- Eye discomfort (the child may say it feels “gritty”)
- Discharge from the eye
- Pain and inflammation of the conjunctiva
- In some children swelling of the eyelids may occur, as well as photophobia (direct light causes discomfort)
The causes of conjunctivitis in children
As we’ve said, the causes of conjunctivitis don’t always have to do with infections. Sources already cited and the National Eye Institute (NEI) explore the various reasons that trigger an inflammation of the conjunctiva.
We’ll tell you about them below.
Bacterial conjunctivitis: The most common
A bacterial infection is by far the most common cause of conjunctivitis in children, occurring in up to 78% of cases. In adults, however, the statistics are different, since viruses cause 36% of the cases and bacteria 40%.
The microorganisms that cause this pathology are usually the same ones that generate respiratory diseases or are found on the skin: Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenza, and Moraxella catarrhalis.
This is a much less common causal agent in infants, as viruses cause about 13% of conjunctivitis cases. Adenoviruses (ADV) cause up to 50% of viral conjunctivitis in children.
Other causes of conjunctivitis in children
Not everything is a matter of viruses or bacteria. Here are some of the possible causes that we have yet to explore:
- Allergies: Allergies cause up to 2% of conjunctivitis cases in infants. They’re tyipcally seasonal and usually associated with sinusitis.
- Foreign bodies: The entry of foreign elements into the eyes or the use of contact lenses can cause this condition.
- Fungal infections
- Infections by amoebas
- Contamination: This may be internal or external, caused by pollution or chemical agents.
- Trauma, such as blows and scratches to the eyes
Children are much less likely to develop these types of conjunctivitis. It’s rare for infants to be exposed to toxic chemicals or wear contact lenses long enough to develop this condition.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are highly contagious. Therefore, when dealing with a child with this condition, extreme caution is essential. This includes the following steps:
- Wash your child’s pillowcases, sheets, towels, and other materials more often than usual.
- Don’t use personal items from the infected child.
Only a doctor can indicate the use of eye drops to treat conjunctivitis in children.
When to see a doctor
As indicated by pediatric organizations that we’ve already mentioned, there are serious ocular pathologies that share symptoms with conjunctivitis. Therefore, as relatively mild as this disease is, if a child complains of ocular annoyances, a visit to the pediatrician is mandatory.
Viral conjunctivitis usually goes away on its own. That is to say, it cures itself in a few days. On the other hand, bacterial conjunctivitis requires the use of antibiotics in the form of drops or ointments.
To learn more: What Are the Causes of Watery Eyes?
Playing doctor at home is never a good idea. For example, there’s no point in treating a case of viral conjunctivitis with antibiotics. What’s more, it may only make the child’s condition worse.
Therefore, if your child has any eye discomfort, a visit to the pediatrician is the logical and responsible step. Not all eye pain has to do with conjunctivitis, so diagnosis must be made quickly and accurately.