If your child starts experiencing irritation in one or both eyes, it may be a sign of conjunctivitis, more commonly known as pink eye.

The condition is named so because it causes the eye to turn red or pink in color as the conjunctiva becomes inflamed. The cause of inflammation can vary, but is usually due to a virus, bacterium, allergen or irritant.

Most forms of pink eye are extremely contagious and should always be examined by a doctor. Once a child has been diagnosed with pink eye, he or she will need to stay home from school to avoid spreading the condition to others.

So how do you know if your child has pink eye? We’re breaking down everything you need to know so you can begin treatment immediately.

What Causes Pink Eye?

There are four different types of pink eye: viral, bacterial, allergic and irritant.

The viral form of pink eye is caused by the same virus that causes the common cold or other viral infections.

It is possible that your child can catch pink eye as a result of their own body spreading the infection through mucous membrane.

Bacterial pink eye, on the other hand, is typically caused by touching an object that has been contaminated by the bacteria. It can also be spread by coming in contact with someone who’s already been infected.

Allergic pink eye is not contagious and occurs when the body responds to contact with an outside allergen. 

It is possible for this form of pink eye to appear seasonally in children as different allergens become more prevalent different times of the year.

If your child’s eyes have been exposed to something irritating, such as chlorine or smoke, it may cause one or both eyes to turn pink in color. This form of pink eye is not contagious either.

How to Tell If My Child Has Pink Eye

Although pink eye has symptoms other than just a pink or red eye, this is the tell-tale sign. 

In most cases, the symptoms of pink eye also depend on the type your child has; however, there are some symptoms that remain the same for each form.

If your child has pink eye, you may notice he or she rubbing their eye and complaining that it feels as though there’s something in there.

White, yellow or green discharge may appear as crust around the eye while your little one is sleeping.

Watery eyes, swollen eyelids and a sensitivity to light are also symptoms that typically accompany pink eye.

If you see your child rubbing an infected eye, try to teach them to not touch the noninfected eye to avoid spreading the condition to both eyes.

Can My Child Go to School with Pink Eye?

One of the most common questions parents ask when their child has been diagnosed with pink eye is whether or not they can return to school. This is completely dependent on the form of pink eye they have.

For instance, allergic and irritant pink eye is not contagious, so missing school isn’t needed.

However, with bacterial pink eye, your child is contagious until they’ve been treated with antibiotics for at least 24 hours.

Viral pink eye needs to work its way through your child’s system, so you should wait until symptoms are totally gone—which may take up to two weeks.

How Is Pink Eye Treated?

There are different ways to treat pink eye, depending on which form your doctor has diagnosed your child with. 

The bacterial form of pink eye can be treated with a topical antibiotic to prevent it from spreading and to treat the bacteria that originally caused the condition.

With an antibiotic, your child’s eyes should improve within a few days; however, it’s important that your child uses the entire course of antibiotics, even once symptoms get better.

Because viral infections do not respond to medication, your doctor will likely recommend several home remedies to treat viral pink eye. These remedies may include cleaning the eyes regularly and using a warm or cold compress to alleviate symptoms.

For allergic pink eye, an antihistamine can help give your toddler some relief. Finally, an irritant-caused pink eye can often be improved by flushing the eyes with water to remove the irritant.

Can Pink Eye be Prevented?

Washing your hands is the most important thing your child can do to help prevent germs from spreading no matter what the condition.

Teach your child to avoid touching his or her eyes since bacteria and irritants can live on their hands.

Always use a clean towel and washcloth when bathing your child and never share these items. If possible, change your child’s pillowcases regularly.

It’s important to remember that pink eye is no more contagious than the common cold, so practicing good hygiene is always the best course of action.

When to See a Doctor for Pink Eye

If your child is showing signs of pink eye, it’s important to get a diagnosis as soon as possible.

This is the best way to ensure your child is being treated properly and can help prevent the condition from spreading to others.

If you leave pink eye untreated, your child can spread it to others for at least two weeks.

If the doctor suspects your child has pink eye, he or she will want to examine the eyes closely and will want to know about any other symptoms your child may have.

In rare cases, a sample may be needed from the eye to send to the laboratory for testing. This is typically only needed if the condition hasn’t improved after treatment has been administered.

To ensure your child is receiving the best care around, consider visiting Medical City Children’s Urgent Care.

We have four locations throughout the DFW area—each open after hours and on the weekend when a pediatrician’s office is usually closed.

Our clinics are built with children in mind, from the sticker collection up front to the pediatric staff.

We know your time is important, so we offer a Web Check-In® feature to help you and your family avoid the lobby by waiting in the comfort of your home. We also welcome walk-in patients.

Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you.