Conjunctivitis is a common condition that causes redness and swelling of the thin layer of tissue that covers the front of the eye (conjunctiva). It is most common in babies older than three months. Older babies are likely to touch their eyes frequently, and are therefore more likely to catch the infection. The infection usually starts in one eye, and then spreads to the other.
Causes of Conjunctivitis
Conjunctivitis is most commonly caused by:
- Bacterial or viral infection – this is infective conjunctivitis
- Allergic reaction – allergens such as dust mites or pollen can cause allergic conjunctivitis
Symptoms of Conjunctivitis
The symptoms can last anywhere from two days to three weeks. Common symptoms of this condition include:
- Redness of the eye
- Swelling of the eye
- Watering of the eye
- Sticky coating on eyelashes
- Eyelids stuck together upon waking
Conjunctivitis can usually be managed effectively from home, although in some cases antibiotics may be necessary. To manage this condition at home, you should:
- Bathe the eyes – use warm water and cotton wool to remove any crusting from around your baby's eyes. Start at the centre of the eye, and work outwards. Use a separate piece of cotton wool for each eye. Wash your hands thoroughly before and after. You should bathe your baby's eyes a couple of times each day.
- Use over the counter eye-drops – ask your pharmacist to recommend some eye-drops that are safe to use on babies. Follow the product advice concerning dosage and usage for your baby.
If you haven't seen an improvement in 48 hours, or if your baby seems to be in a lot of discomfort, you should speak to your doctor. Your doctor may be able to prescribe some antibiotic eye-drops.
If your baby is less than one month old, you should see your doctor immediately. Conjunctivitis in a newborn can be a symptom of a more serious condition such as chlamydia.
Is Conjunctivitis Contagious?
Infective conjunctivitis is highly contagious. You should take the following precautions to prevent a family-wide outbreak:
- Allocate a towel for the baby, and make sure no-one else uses it. Wash it at a high temperature.
- Wash your hands before and after bathing your baby's eye.
- Ensure the whole family washes their hands frequently throughout the day.
Allergic conjunctivitis appears almost immediately after the baby's exposure to the allergen. You should speak to your healthcare provider if you think your baby has allergic conjunctivitis.
You should contact your doctor if:
- Your baby has a fever or an earache
- Your baby's eyes are stuck together in the morning
- The area surrounding your baby's eyes is red
- There has been a trauma to the eye