What Can You Give a Child for Conjunctivitis? Pinkeye Treatment

Medically Reviewed on 4/5/2022
What Can You Give a Child for Conjunctivitis
Conjunctivitis is a minor eye infection common in young children that can be treated with eye rinses, saline drops, lubricants, and antihistamines

Conjunctivitis is a minor eye infection common in young children. Also called pinkeye, conjunctivitis can be treated with eye rinses, saline drops, lubricants, and antihistamines:

  • Eye rinse: Clean the infected eye carefully with clean, warm water and to remove discharge that is stuck on the eyelids. 
  • Saline drops: Apply saline drops into the affected eyes.
  • Lubricants: Lubricating eye drops can help get rid of grittiness and relieve the stinging sensation associated with viral keratoconjunctivitis.
  • Antihistamines: Over-the-counter antihistamines can be taken orally along with acetaminophen to help reduce redness and itchiness.

If the conjunctivitis is caused by a bacterial infection, it can affect the cornea and should be treated with antibiotic eye drops prescribed by a doctor.

How is conjunctivitis treated in children?

Treatment for conjunctivitis varies depending on the cause and symptoms and may include:

  • Bacterial infection. Can be treated by applying antibiotic eye drops or ointments to the inside of the eyelid 3-4r times a day for 5-7 days. For more stubborn infections of pinkeye caused by gonorrhea or chlamydia, an oral antibiotic must be taken for several days.
  • Viral infection. Viral conjunctivitis usually lasts about 1 week and usually resolves on its own. Antibiotic eye drops may be used to help prevent secondary infection. Conjunctivitis caused by the herpes virus can be very serious and may need prescription antiviral eye drops, ointment or pills.
  • Irritants. Use water to wash the irritating substance from the eye. Eyes should begin to improve within 4 hours.
  • Allergic reaction. Conjunctivitis caused by allergies should improve once the allergy is treated and the trigger is avoided. Antihistamines can relieve sore, inflamed, and itchy eyes.

What are the main causes of conjunctivitis in children?

Infectious conjunctivitis is typically caused by bacteria and viruses that are responsible for colds and other infections, such as ear and sinus infections. Sometimes, it can be caused by bacteria that cause sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) like chlamydia and gonorrhea.

Some types of conjunctivitis, however, have other causes:

  • Allergic conjunctivitis: Occurs more often in children with a history of other allergic conditions, such as hay fever and asthma. Triggers may include grass, ragweed pollen, animal dander, and dust mites.
  • Irritant conjunctivitis: Can be caused by anything that irritates the eyes, such as air pollution or chlorine in swimming pools.
  • Papillary conjunctivitis: Occurs in content lens users when irritants in the air build up on the lenses.


Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis) Symptoms, Causes, Treatments See Slideshow

What are signs and symptoms of conjunctivitis?

Symptoms of conjunctivitis often develop within 2-3 days of infection and may last from 2 days to 3 weeks. Symptoms may include:

  • Red or pink eye
  • Eye itchiness
  • Excessive tear production
  • Gritty feeling in the eye
  • Eyelid puffiness and swelling 
  • Chromatic crusting around the eyelids
  • Dislike of bright lights (photophobia)
  • Sun sensitivity

Is conjunctivitis contagious?

Viral conjunctivitis and bacterial conjunctivitis are both contagious.

  • Viral conjunctivitis is contagious before symptoms appear and remains so while symptoms last.
  • Bacterial conjunctivitis can spread to others as soon as symptoms appear and for as long as there is discharge from the eye or until 24 hours after antibiotics are started.

Conjunctivitis spreads through contact with an infected person or objects touched by an infected person. In many cases, it spreads among children swimming in contaminated pools or sharing contaminated children. Coughing and sneezing can also spread the infection.

Conjunctivitis in one eye can easily spread to the other eye when you rub the infected eye and then touch the other eye.

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Medically Reviewed on 4/5/2022
Image Source: iStock Images

University of Rochester Medical Center. Conjunctivitis in Children. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=90&ContentID=P02078

Chawla R, Kellner JD, Astle WF. Acute infectious conjunctivitis in childhood. Paediatr Child Health. 2001;6(6):329-335. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2804756/