Pink Eye, Oh My! What To Do When You Think Your Kid Has Pink Eye

It’s a universal parenting truth: when your kid comes home sick, the rest of the household is about to get sick. All parents cringe at the email with the subject header, “your child has been exposed to…”.  So, when the apple of your eye arrives with those sad, swollen peepers and is obviously uncomfortable, it’s definitely time for damage control. 


Read on for your action plan: 

First thing is first: What is pink eye? In technical terms, pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, is an inflammation of the membrane around the whites of the eyes and on the inside of the eyelids. There are three different strains of pink eye (viral, bacterial, and allergic) and the particular strain determines the treatment. Viral and bacterial pink eye are both highly contagious (and naturally, the  most commonly found!) strains. So, you’ll want to keep everyone outside of the dog away from your kid if if it turns out he/she has contracted either of those. The third (allergic), being directly related to allergies, is just as uncomfortable for the infected party, but doesn’t pose a threat to anyone else. 

Now that we’ve covered what pink eye is, it’s time to understand where it might have come from and how to identify the symptoms. Again, allergic pink eye is caused by an underlying allergy, but both viral and bacterial pink eye are typically circulated through physical contact with infected items or people. Often found loitering around on the most popular classroom toys or heavily trafficked surfaces in schools, it is incredibly common to have an entire class become infected within a couple of days. Outside of the dreaded email from school informing you that your child’s class has been exposed, the general indicators of pink eye are: the whites of your kid’s eyes looking red or pinkish, puffy eyes, unusual discharge coming from the eyes, and/or complaints of his/her eyes burning or itching. (Think: That dust caught under the eyelid sensation.)

Still thinking your child has pink eye? Try not to panic and take a deep breath. The first thing you are going to want to do, no matter what strain your child may have, is contact your family doctor.. After an examination, they should be able to tell you whether your kid has pink eye, what type it is, and prescribe you a treatment based on their findings. If your kids are prone to allergies or allergic irritation of the eyes, talk with your doctor about how to treat allergies so they don’t flare up into conjunctivitis. In addition to the prescribed meds, most doctors will generally advise that you do a general germ sweep. Cue: Target trip! This includes disinfecting your home and car, throwing out any face/eye-related products used while infected, and thoroughly cleaning your child’s eyeglass frames. Following this advice will also help prevent any chance of a relapse once the infection is gone. It is also important to note that if your child wears contacts it is imperative that they discontinue using them until after seeing a doctor, as they may worsen the infection.

How can you help? Pink eye can range from incredibly uncomfortable to borderline painful. This being said, making your kid as comfortable as possible will make the process more bearable for everyone until the infection passes. You can start by holding a warm compress to the affected eye(s) until the cloth cools, which can bring minutes of much-needed relief. Remember: Eyes can be infected individually, so don’t let the used compress touch the other eye if only one eye is infected. To avoid giving pink eye a free ride between family members, always be sure to wash your hands after helping your kids with treatment.

Is this over yet? It may seem like an eternity, but viral pink eye usually lasts two weeks or less, a lot like the common cold. Bacterial and allergy-related conjunctivitis will clear up with appropriate antibiotics from a doctor and the added comfort of over-the-counter remedies such as eyedrops and warm compresses.

Wondering if there is a way to avoid this whole pink eye fiasco? With roughly 3 million children infected with pink eye each year in the U.S. alone, the possibility of bypassing it completely is a little slim. However, you can improve your kid’s chances by having frequent conversations with them about germs and how to prevent catching them. Encourage them to wash their hands with soapy water often, avoid touching their eyes if their hands are dirty, and steer clear of sharing items that come into contact with the eyes including, but not limited to: pillows, washcloths, eye drops, and makeup/makeup brushes. 

What NOT to do: There’s no cutting corners when treating pink eye, including the commonly made mistakes below.

  • Trying to treat the infection yourself, without consulting a doctor: Not only do you run the risk of making it worse, but you also increase the chances of yourself or others contracting the infection. 

  • Holding onto any items used during the infected period: This will only set you and your child up for a relapse. And, that’s no fun.

  • Forgetting to thoroughly clean your kid’s glasses: Germs have a way of working themselves into the nooks and crannies of items like these, so be sure to really hit every spot. 

Having pink eye is no walk in the park. Luckily, with the proper diagnosis and treatment, it will clear up in no time! And, with the proper precautions, you may make it out without any one else catching it, too.

Here’s to a pink eye free school year!

-Team Fitz 

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