School, Pink Eye, and What You Should Always Have in Your Medicine Cabinet

So school starts and you notice your kid has a red eye. Should you send him to school? Keep at home? Or take him to the doctor’s?

Here are some quick tips on what to do if your child has an eye that looks red and irritated, and there is no history of an injury to the eye area.

Photo Courtesy of Lone Primate on

Photo Courtesy of Lone Primate on

If the redness is in both eyes and she also has an accompanying cold or is recovering from one, she has viral conjunctivitis, also known as “pink eye,” and is highly contagious. Keep her at home and make sure she doesn’t touch her eyes. You may use cool packs and/or preservative-free artificial tears to soothe the eyes. The conjunctivitis should resolve within 5-7 days, often sooner. Family members should all be mindful of washing their hands.

If your child is a contact lens wearer, he should not put on the contact lenses, especially if he is experiencing pain, light sensitivity or blurry vision. He needs to be seen by his optometrist to rule out a contact lens-related infection, which could cause vision loss. In the meantime, using preservative-free artificial tears as often as needed will be helpful.shutterstock_37277080

If your child wakes up with one or both eyes stuck shut, or has discharge during the day, and the eyes are pink, she most likely has a bacterial infection. This requires a visit to your eye care provider and antibiotic eye medication. Preservative-free artificial tears are useful to rinse out the discharge and soothe the eyes until he can be seen.

If your child has intermittent pink eyes that are sometimes itchy, or occur after certain activities such as outdoor play or after reading, she may be experiencing allergies or dry eyes. Allergies tend to cause itching of the eyes, especially when accompanied by other allergy symptoms such as a scratchy throat or runny nose. Often, over the counter oral allergy medications will alleviate the symptoms of allergies. For mild cases of allergies or dry eyes, preservative-free tears again will often improve the symptoms. Otherwise, check with your optometrist to be certain.

Whenever in doubt, visit your eye doctor’s office, especially if your child is experiencing pain and/or vision changes. In almost any situation where you are unsure or do not have ready access to care, preservative free tears are a harmless and often beneficial alternative, and can be used with and without contact lenses. Always keep some handy.

~Cindy Wang, OD
California Optometric Association

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