Pink Eye and You
Pink eye is another common childhood malady that causes school administrators to panic. Despite its common occurrence, the eye infection is fortunately relatively harmless in most cases.
What most people mean when they say their child has pink eye is that their child has an infection of the membrane covering the eyeball. However, not all pink-appearing eyes are caused by infections. Even if the redness (or pinkness) is caused by an infection, not all of them get better with antibiotics, because some eye infections are causes by viruses.
Clinicians' first diagnostic priority when they encounter a patient with red eyes is to differentiate an eye infection from an eye allergy. With an eye infection, the redness usually starts abruptly, and it is often accompanied by copious eye discharge and pain. The eye discharge may be so thick and tenacious that your child cannot open his eyes in the morning.
With eye allergy, the onset of symptoms tends to be more insidious. The child may have been bothered by the eye on and off for more than a week, and the eye discharge is usually scant and more watery. Bright light can be bothersome, and irritation with itchiness of the eye is a prominent symptom. Both eyes are often affected together, even though it is possible for an allergic reaction to occur in just one eye.
The physician may question you in order to distinguish an eye infection from an allergic reaction. The treatment is completely different, so it's important to determine the exact cause of the redness. Treating an allergic reaction of the eye with antibiotic eye drops is not only futile, the symptoms may even worsen.
Reaction to Eye Drops
Sometimes the antibiotic eye drops prescribed to treat the eye infection can cause the eyes to become even redder. These patients may have an allergic reaction to the antibiotic eye drop. The most common culprit is sulfa eye drops. Make sure your child does not get sulfa-containing eye drops if she is allergic to sulfa drugs.
If your child wears contact lenses, it is critical that she stop wearing them if she has an eye infection. Reusing contaminated contact lenses causes the child to reinfect herself repeatedly. Do not allow your child to wear disposable contact lenses for prolonged period of time. Follow the recommended replacement schedule.
If your child's pink eye worsens or does not improve after two days of treatment, contact your pediatrician immediately. Look for the word “sulfacetamide” on the label of the eye drops you are using. If you find this word, it means your child is getting a sulfa-containing antibiotic. This antibiotic works well for most eye infections, but if your child is allergic to it, the doctor will have to prescribe an alternate antibiotic for treating pink eye.
Something getting stuck between the eyelids can also cause irritation to the eye and trigger redness. If the doctor suspects this, she may try to wash the eye with a clean liquid to get rid of the foreign body in the eye. In addition, a small cut on the surface of the eye can cause a lot of pain, though it usually does not cause significant discharge.
Back to School
While it is possible to distinguish between an allergic eye reaction and an eye infection, it is virtually impossible to confidently differentiate an eye infection that is caused by virus and one that is caused by bacteria. Consequently, if your pediatrician suspects an eye infection, he is most likely going to treat it with an antibiotic eye drop, even though antibiotics can only cure a bacterial infection.
Even though most eye infections get better on their own, it is still worth bringing your child to the doctor to get an infection treated. With treatment, a bacterial eye infection will stop being contagious within twenty-four hours after the initiation of antibiotic eye drops. This may allow your child to return to school sooner.
Regardless of the cause of your child's pink eye, be sure to get a doctor's note after your visit. Without an official release note to return to school, the school administrator may not allow your child to go back to class.