Red, itchy eyes are common in tots. Learn how to protect junior and yourself from this extremely infectious condition…

EXPERT ADVICE: Conjunctivitis

As soon as your mini-explorer starts to walk or crawl, you’ll have a tough time keeping his paws out of dirt, germs and harm’s way! That’s why infections such as red/sore eyes (also known as pinkeye) — or conjunctivitis — are common among children.


Contrary to popular belief, you cannot get conjunctivitis just by gazing into the eyes of an infected person. Consultant ophthalmologist at The Children’s Eye & ENT Centre, Dr Zena Lim, explains that transmission is only possible by direct hand-eye contact. “Meaning to say, the exposure and contact with contaminated surfaces and then touching one’s eye is still the way to get infected.”

Symptoms include redness, itchiness, tearing, swelling and pain or discomfort in the eyes. Other signs are an increased discharge of mucus, blurred vision and enlarged and painful lymph nodes near the ear. Discomfort when exposed to lights — called photophobia — is another worrying symptom of conjunctivitis. Dr Lim sets you straight on this condition…

How can parents prevent their kids from developing conjunctivitis?

If your child develops conjunctivitis, keep them at home. Bring them to see the family doctor, paediatrician or ophthalmologist and ensure that they get the all clear before returning to school. You will also be preventing the spread of the infection.

Practise good hygiene habits like frequently washing your hands and not sharing towels or toys. If possible, segregate each child’s belongings.

For adults, make sure you don’t share personal eyecare or facial items with others. Things like face towels or eye drops should never be shared.

“If your child develops conjunctivitis, keep them at home…You will also be preventing the spread of the infection.”

What are the common causes of conjunctivitis?

While viral infections are the most common, bacterial conjunctival infections can also occur. Some viruses responsible for the common cold may also bring about sore eyes. If you are prone to allergies — for instance, allergic nasal symptoms, a sensitivity to dust mites — you’ll tend to develop allergic conjunctivitis.

Chemical conjunctivitis is caused by exposing the eye to irritants such as chlorine in the pool, haze or eye makeup.

Read on to learn how to treat this condition…


EXPERT ADVICE: Conjunctivitis

What treatment options are there for red eyes?

For bacterial infections or the prevention of another bacterial infections after a viral infection, your child’s doctor may prescribe antibiotic eye drops. Lubricants will be given to relieve some of the discomfort or itchiness in the eyes. Antihistamine eye drops may also be prescribed to reduce the redness, swelling or itchiness in the eyes. Both lubricants and antihistamine eye drops are available over the counter. Ice packs are another non-medical alternative which can be extremely useful in relieving swelling or itchiness of the eyes.

Occasionally, steroid eye drops are prescribed by the ophthalmologist to treat certain forms of conjunctivitis.

“Allergic conjunctivitis is a fairly common in children due to the high prevalence of dust mite allergies.”

What other kinds of infections can be mistaken for pinkeye?

Allergic conjunctivitis is fairly common in children due to the high prevalence of dust mite allergies. The symptoms can be extremely similar to a regular conjunctivitis infection, making it hard sometimes to differentiate between the two.

In adults, contact lens-related conjunctivitis can sometimes be serious. So, it should be diagnosed early as possible. Unhealthy habits when using contact lenses can result in a corneal ulcer due to a serious bacterial infection.

Are there any long-term effects if conjunctivitis is left untreated?

While serious bacterial infections that are untreated or misdiagnosed can lead to corneal perforations and blindness, these occurrences are very rare. Viral infections that cause scratches over a large surface of the eye can heal poorly and lead to corneal scarring and poor vision. In rare cases, long-term unmonitored usage of steroid eye drops can cause elevated eye pressures and glaucoma-related blindness.

Get to know our expert… Dr Zena Lim is the medical director and consultant ophthalmologist at The Children’s Eye & ENT Centre.

Photos: iStock

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