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Jennifer L.W. Fink
Registered Nurse

Pinkeye In Babies

Sticky, itchy eyes? Could be pinkeye. Here’s how to know — and what to do about it.

What is pinkeye in babies?

Pinkeye, officially called conjunctivitis, is an infection and inflammation of the conjunctiva, the clear membrane that covers the eyes. It can be caused by a virus, bacteria or mechanical irritation. Most often in babies, a virus or bacteria is to blame.

What are the symptoms of pinkeye in babies?

If you’ve ever had pinkeye, you know it causes itchy, sandy-feeling eyes. You may notice eye redness, irritation and gooey-looking discharge.

Are there any tests for pinkeye in babies?

No tests are usually necessary. Pinkeye is diagnosed by baby’s appearance and symptoms.

How common is pinkeye in babies?

Newborns are actually more susceptible to pinkeye than older kids because they have immature immune systems and, often, blocked tear ducts. Newborns can also contract pinkeye after a vaginal birth if the mother has a sexually transmitted disease. (But don’t worry if your baby comes out with pinkeye. It doesn’t mean you have an undiagnosed case of chlamydia. Normal bacteria in the vagina can cause conjunctivitis in newborns too.)

How did my baby get pinkeye?

Pinkeye is very contagious. If someone else in the house (or at your child’s day care) gets pinkeye, there’s a very good chance that your child will too. Pinkeye is also caused by many of the same viruses and bacteria that cause colds, so during cold season, she’s susceptible to it.

What’s the best way to treat pinkeye in babies?

Pinkeye “really requires a trip to the pediatrician for evaluation,” says Alanna Levine, MD, a pediatrician at Orangetown Pediatric Associates in Tappan, New York. Antibiotic drops are used to treat cases of bacterial pinkeye.

Administering the drops can be kind of tricky, though, so Levine offers this advice: “Have your child close her eyes and put two drops on her eyelashes; then have her open her eyes and blink. The drops will fall into her eyes that way.”

You can also use warm, moist washcloths to clear the gunk from your child’s eyes. It’s not uncommon for a kid with pinkeye to find her eyes glued shut in the morning. Laying a warm, moist cloth over her eyes for a few seconds can loosen the secretions enough so she can open them up. You can also use the washcloth or a clean, moist cotton ball to clear the discharge from the eye. Just remember to wipe from the inner corner to the outer corner of the eye, and be sure to use a clean cloth or cotton ball to prevent reinfection.

Because pinkeye is so contagious, you’ll need to keep your child home from day care until she’s completed 24 hours of antibiotic treatment.

What can I do to prevent my baby from getting pinkeye?

Good hand washing can help prevent the spread of pinkeye. If other family members have pinkeye, make sure you — and everyone else — wash your hands before touching baby. Use separate towels and washcloths for each family member, and wash pillowcases and linens used to care for infected eyes thoroughly. Dispose of cotton balls and tissues immediately.

Testing for — and treating — STDs prior to baby’s birth may also prevent pinkeye infection.

What do other moms do when their babies have pinkeye?

“It started with his eyes just tearing up (one was always worse than the other); then it started to get goopy and red. Then when he woke up, his eyes were crusty and really nasty. In the mornings, they were literally stuck together! I had to use a warm rag to get them unstuck. The doctor gave us drops, and his eyes started to get better overnight.”

“We dealt with pinkeye this week. When she'd wake up in the morning, her eyelid was very swollen and red — so much sticky goop that her eyelashes were crusted together, and underneath her eye was red and a little puffy. No other symptoms of cough or fever, though.”

“My daughter started with a cold and then got pinkeye, so she's a little fussier than normal (but nothing too bad), and now that I think about it, I think she’s been eating a little less than she normally does. However, it's hard to know if that's because she doesn't feel well or if she's just not into our cooking at the moment.”

Are there any other resources for pinkeye in babies?

American Academy of Pediatrics’

The Bump expert: Alanna Levine, MD, pediatrician at Orangetown Pediatric Associates in Tappan, New York