and what to do if they get it anyway.
Red eyes… gooey discharge… a burning, sand-in-the-eye sensation… and a tendency to spread quickly amongst children – parents everywhere dread the symptoms of conjunctivitis, otherwise known as pink eye. How can you keep your child safe and avoid bringing the condition home? We talked to one of our resident pediatric experts and MDLIVE’s Chief Medical Affairs Officer, Dr. Deborah Mulligan, for advice.
1) Teach your child careful hand hygiene.
Dr. Mulligan’s number one tip? Teach your child to wash his or her hands.
“Pink eye is caused by an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the clear membrane covering the white part of the eye and the inner surface of the eyelids,” says Dr. Mulligan. Touching your eyes with dirty hands can spread bacteria, viruses, allergens, or chemicals, all of which can cause irritation or infection.
“Good hand hygiene is the best method for preventing the spread of pink eye,” she says. Getting your kids in the habit of washing their hands before and after touching the eyes, nose, and mouth helps prevent the infection from taking hold.
2) Sanitize objects commonly touched by hands or faces.
Regularly cleaning tables, doorknobs, telephones, cots, cuddle blankets, toys, and other objects touched by hands or faces helps eliminate lingering bacteria, viruses, or allergens.
“It’s helpful to think of pink eye like the common cold,” says Dr. Mulligan. “Both can spread through germs, and both can spread through coughing and sneezing. Eliminating the germs before they’re able to spread helps minimize the risk.”
3) Don’t share personal items like towels or washcloths.
Sharing is a valuable skill to teach your child – but they shouldn’t share everything.
“In the summertime,” says Dr. Mulligan, “pink eye can spread when swimming in contaminated water or sharing contaminated towels.”
You can get pink eye by touching an infected person or something an infected person has touched, such as a used tissue, towel, washcloth, or other item that comes into contact with the eyes, nose, or mouth.
4) If your child shows symptoms, see a doctor right away.
As any parent knows, you can’t always control the germs to which your child is exposed. If your child does show symptoms, talk to a doctor as soon as possible. There are several types of pink eye, each with different causes, symptoms, and treatments. Some are extremely contagious, while others aren’t contagious at all.