Conjunctivitis is a common problem in children so don’t be surprised to find your kids waking up with sticky red eyes in the winter period.
Conjunctivitis occurs when the clear surface covering the white of the eye becomes inflamed, either due to infection, allergy or irritation. Symptoms include red eyes and a watery discharge. The eyes may feel ‘gritty’ and the eyelashes can have a sticky coating, particularly first thing in the morning. Conjunctivitis can affect one eye at first but usually it quickly spreads to both eyes. Symptoms can last from two days to three weeks.
The treatment for conjunctivitis depends on the cause. It usually gets better without any treatment within a week or two.
Infective conjunctivitis can be caused by a virus or bacteria and is very contagious. It can be difficult to distinguish between a viral and bacterial eye infection. In adults, the cause is usually viral, while in children the cause tends to be bacterial. Eye drops and ointment containing the antibiotic chloramphenicol (e.g. Optrex Infected Eye Drops, Optrex Bacterial Conjunctivitis Eye ointment) are available over the counter to treat bacterial conjunctivitis. Ointment can be trickier to apply but will remain in the eye longer, so it’s particularly useful for applying at bedtime. They can be used from two years old. The product should be used for five days and, as with any antibiotic, it is important to complete the course.
You can help relieve the symptoms of conjunctivitis by gently clearing away the discharge from the eye with a cotton ball soaked in warm water. Clean in one direction only, moving the cotton ball from the inside to the outside of the eye. Use a separate cotton wool ball for each eye. Using a clean cold cloth over closed eyes can relieve irritation and swelling.
Good hygiene can help prevent the spread of conjunctivitis. Washing your hands regularly and not sharing pillows or towels will help prevent it spreading. Try to discourage your child from rubbing their eyes. You don’t need to stay away from work or school if you or your child has conjunctivitis, unless you (or they) are feeling particularly unwell.
If there are a number of conjunctivitis cases at your child’s school or nursery, you may be advised to keep them away until their infection has cleared up.
Richard Dunn is a community pharmacist with Gordons Chemists.
The content of this article is for general information only. The information is not for diagnostic purposes and should not be treated as such. You must not rely on the information in this column as an alternative to medical advice from your GP or other professional healthcare provider.
Established in 1980, Gordons Chemists are an independently owned retail pharmacy chain with nine pharmacies in Scotland. Find your local Gordons store at 1 Gracemount Drive, Edinburgh, EH16 6RR
or 105 High Street, Musselburgh, EH21 7DA
Products described are available at most pharmacies and Gordons Chemists does not endorse any individual product. Always consult your pharmacist in relation to your individual symptoms.