How to spot conjunctivitis
Those itchy, red eyes may be a common childhood ailment.

Conjunctivitis is the inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva, which is the clear membrane that covers the inner part of the eyelid and eyeball. Your child might get infective conjunctivitis – the adenovirus – which is the most common form of conjunctivitis.

He might also get bacterial conjunctivitis, irritant conjunctivitis from something splashed in his eye and allergic conjunctivitis if he suffers from bad rhinitis and hayfever. Very occasionally, he could even get herpes. “This is the more serious type of conjunctivitis as it can eat away at the cornea and needs to be treated very aggressively,” cautions Cape Town paediatrician Dr Paul Sinclair.

What are the symptoms?

If your child has red, puffy, itchy eyes, he most likely has conjunctivitis. And if there’s pus – that dries to form a sticky crust, often gluing your child’s eyes together, especially on waking – then it’s most likely infected, explains Dr Sinclair, adding that the conjunctiva can get really blood-red and angry too.

What causes it?

“Infection, irritation and allergy are the three most common causes of conjunctivitis,” says Dr Sinclair.

While it’s hard to avoid infection, and your little one may get viral conjunctivitis if he catches a cold, you can certainly avoid irritant conjunctivitis by locking up chemicals such as caustic soda and chlorine and teaching your child not to put anything into his eyes.

As far as allergic conjunctivitis goes, again, you would need to find out what your child’s allergy trigger is – is it the cat, or dustmites in your house or in his bed? Now eliminate those triggers as best you can. “Children with hayfever who rub their red, watery eyes all the time, particularly when their noses are running, generally have allergic conjunctivitis. Often, when I treat a child’s allergic rhinitis with antihistamines, the conjunctivitis disappears too,” Dr Sinclair notes.


Once your child’s conjunctivitis has been diagnosed, you can then treat it appropriately. Viral conjunctivitis generally clears up on its own and can be treated with saline drops and by cleaning the eye from the inner corner outwards three times a day with cooled, boiled water on cotton wool. However, bacterial conjunctivitis requires more.

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