“I am worried that my child has ‘pink eye’, is this ‘pink eye’?”

If you get a blank stare from your eye doctor to this question, it is because technically there is no condition known as ‘pinkeye’ – in fact, to an eye doctor a pink eye means nothing more than an eye that is red.

There are lots of causes for a red eye ranging from bacterial infection, viral infection, allergies, abrasions, dryness or contact lens wearers.  The medical term for a red, inflamed eye is conjunctivitis.  So you can have bacterial conjunctivitis, allergic conjunctivitis, viral conjunctivitis, etc.  For the most part most children’s red eyes will be due to a virus, bacteria or an allergy.  The good news is that it is rare for any of these to result in vision loss.  The key is to get an eye exam to determine the proper diagnosis so you can start the appropriate treatment.

If it is allergic, the key to treatment is to remove the source of the allergy, consider anti-allergy medications and use cool compresses.

If it is a bacterial conjunctivitis, the body is good at fighting this off in less than a week but there are excellent antibiotic eye drops that can clear this up much faster.  Bacterial conjunctivitis can be contagious so you want to make sure you wash hands often and don’t share towels.

For viral conjunctivitis, much like the common cold, there are no treatments available – you just have to let your body’s immune system fight it off.  Like bacterial infections these can be contagious so you want to wash hands often and not share towels.  Certain viral infections can be very contagious and some have potential to affect vision and for this reason, it is sometimes advised that children stay home from school until the conjunctivitis has resolved.  Sometimes viral infections are the ones referred to as ‘pinkeye’, however this term is used so loosely and often incorrectly that it often confuses the issue.

The key in to conjunctivitis is to get an eye exam so you can get a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Michael D. Nelson, Optometrist