Viral Conjunctivitis (Pinkeye)
Pinkeye usually refers to a common, self-limiting viral infection that affects the surface of the eyeball and causes tearing and red eyes for a few days. It can also produce a thick yellow or greenish discharge that dries into a crust and looks particularly dramatic in the morning, when the secretions have accumulated and glued the eye shut. Viral pinkeye can show up on its own or with a cold.
Contrary to common belief, pinkeye usually requires no treatment, because viral infections don’t respond to antibiotic drops, which will just sting Jimmy’s eye and increase the irritation. Your best bet to alleviate the discomfort is oral pain medication and numbing cold compresses. The condition usually resolves on its own after a couple of days.
Viral pinkeye is very contagious, and it can create havoc in nursery schools. Once one child has it, fifteen others get it within a few days. Hand washing has no preventive effect unless you can make Jimmy wash his hands every time he touches his face. Keeping him out of school won’t really help, because the disease is very contagious even before symptoms become obvious, which means kids are spreading the virus before they even get sick.
Schools often require kids to be “treated” before they can be readmitted to classes, but the irony is that there is no efficient treatment for pinkeye.
If your little patient’s symptoms are very dramatic, he may have bacterial pinkeye, in which case treatment is required. Bacterial conjunctivitis is much rarer than the viral version, but it produces more impressive symptoms. The whites of the eyes are quite red, the lids are conspicuously swollen, and the discharge is abundant throughout the day. This condition does require evaluation by a doctor, and, unlike viral conjunctivitis, it will respond to antibiotic drops.