Pink eye is up there with projectile vomiting and diarrhea on the list of things that parents dread. Such as adults, babies and toddlers can get pink eyes. Even newborns can get this common eye condition.
Pink eye – or conjunctivitis, the medical term for it – occurs when the lining of the eye (conjunctiva) becomes irritated, infected, or inflamed. It is usually mild and will go away on its own.
In some cases, pink eye can be serious, especially in newborns. Your little one may need treatment to get rid of it.
Here’s what you need to know about pink eye in babies and what you can do to clear it up.
Even before your little one’s eye turns neon pink, you may notice some signs that they are about to have pink eyes.
Sometimes babies and toddlers get pink eyes during or right after they have an ear or throat infection. A runny nose or sneezing can also be followed by pink eyes.
Other early signs that your baby may be developing pink eyes include:
- swollen eyelids
- red eyelids
- watery eyes
- rubbing their eyes more than usual
- eyes crusted or fibrous dismissal
- agitation or crying more than usual
- sleeping more than usual
- being less active than usual
- being more affectionate than usual
- refuse to feed or less appetite
- changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation
You can’t miss the full-blown pink eye in your little one as one or both eyes will appear pink or red. Like pink eye in adults, it can cause other symptoms in babies and toddlers.
Newborns may have pink eye symptoms as early as a few days after birth. Or the pink eye can appear at any time in the first 4 weeks.
Pink eyes can cause slightly different symptoms in every child. Your baby may also have:
- swollen eyelids
- itching or irritation of the eye
- eye pain
- excessive blinking
- sensitivity to light
- clear, white, or yellow liquid coming from one or both eyes
- fibrous discharge coming from one or both eyes
- eye crusting
- eyelids that stick together upon waking
- a boil or sore on the eyelid (this happens in more severe cases – see your doctor immediately!)
Always consult your doctor if your baby or toddler has an eye infection or changes to the eye or eyelid. Their eyes are so sensitive, and it’s best to be safe!
How severe pink eye is depends on the cause and the age of your baby. Pink eyes in toddlers are normally mild and disappear within 1 or 2 days without treatment.
Pink eye in a newborn should always be viewed by a doctor. A severe pink eye infection may need treatment, including medication. Not receiving treatment can damage the baby’s eyes or cause other health complications.
Pink eyes can easily spread from one eye to another and to other people (including you) in some cases.
Wash your hands regularly if your baby has pink eyes. Wash their hands often with warm water and soap. Also avoid touching your face and eyes.
It may be more difficult to get your baby or toddler to stop touching or rubbing their eyes or face.
If your baby has a pink eye, putting the mittens back on can help. Distract older babies and toddlers with toys or some screen time (extra TV allowed on a healing day!).
A home remedies can help relieve discomfort and pain in your little one’s eyes, but they can’t really treat pink eye.
Clean your baby or toddler’s eyes to remove crusting and moisture. This can also help open a blocked one tear duct
To do this, you can use a sterile wet squeeze around the outside of their eyes. Just follow these steps:
- Boil filtered water and let it cool to about room temperature.
- Wash your hands with warm water and soap.
- Dip sterile cotton pads or cloths in the water.
- Squeeze out any excess water.
- Gently wipe your little one’s closed eyes.
- Discard the sterile pad after one swipe.
- Grab another sterile pad and keep wiping and dabbing the eyes.
- Do not use the same cotton pads for both eyes.
If your baby or toddler seems to be getting a pale pink eye more than once, check your detergent, shampoo, soap and cleaning supplies in your home. Some chemicals can cause sensitivity or reactions that cause pink eye.
Only use natural cleansers and baby-friendly soaps and detergents. Also, dress your baby in clothes made from unbleached cotton and other natural fabrics.
Do not use eye drops on babies or toddlers.
Natural or homeopathic eye drops can work in adults, but they may not be safe for babies and toddlers. Homeopathic eye drops contain ingredients including chemicals, such as:
- belladonna (this is actually from a poisonous plant!)
- hepar sulphuris
- silver sulfate
- sodium nitrate
Treatment for pink eye in babies and toddlers and how long it lasts takes depends on the cause. If your baby has a bacterial infection, he may need antibiotics.
Antibiotic treatment for pink eye in babies is very rare, but can look like this:
- liquid antibiotic that you give to the baby by mouth
- antibiotic eye drops, ointment or gel
- IV antibiotics given through a needle in the vein (at your doctor’s office or hospital)
If your baby’s pink eye is caused by a virus, allergies, or irritation, it cannot be treated with antibiotics.
Pink eyes from a viral infection usually heal on their own within 1 to 2 weeks. Pink eye irritation disappears quickly in just a few days.
Newborns can develop pink eyes for different reasons than older babies and toddlers. Newborn babies can get pink eyes from:
- a blocked tear duct
- eye drops given in hospital to protect newborns’ eyes
If your newborn has a pink eye due to an infection, it can become serious without treatment. Types of bacterial and viral infections that cause pink eye in newborns include:
- gonococcal infection
These infections can be serious and need immediate medical attention.
It can help get rid of allergens. Try to remove curtains and carpets from your home, or avoid being outside when there is a lot of pollen in the air.
They say prevention is better than cure.
In some cases, your doctor may recommend that you and your baby undergo antibiotic treatment for a current pink eye. This is because in rare cases the infection can have been passed from parent to baby, which can happen accidentally during birth.
Getting treatment can both get rid of the bacteria that caused the infection and prevent pink eye from recurring. A double win!
In other cases, your doctor may recommend allergy skin scratch tests to find out if your toddler has an allergy. Preventing an allergic reaction can help keep the pink eye away.
Otherwise, maintain good hygiene – especially if your baby has one eye rubbing machine – is the best preventive measure.
However, sometimes pink eye is unavoidable.
Pink eyes in newborns are common, but can sometimes be more serious. In those severe cases, treatment is needed to resolve the infection.
In some cases, an infection can be passed from you to the baby and you may both need treatment.
Pink eyes in older babies and toddlers are normally mild. It can be caused by:
- chemical irritation
- cold and flu
Always consult your doctor if your baby or toddler has an eye infection. It’s best to be safe.
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