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Conjunctivitis, commonly called pink eye, is inflammation of the conjunctiva (a membrane that covers the eyeball and lines the inside of the eyelid).

It appears as redness of the white part of the eye and may include swelling. Conjunctivitis may be contagious. If caused by a bacterial or viral infection, conjunctivitis may spread to your child’s healthy eye and may spread to other children and adults if they come into contact with your child’s affected eye or the fluids from it.

Causes of Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis may be caused by:

  • Bacteria (several different species may cause conjunctivitis)
  • Viruses (such as adenovirus or herpes virus)
  • Allergies
  • Exposure to chemicals (rarely, the drops given to newborns for preventing conjunctivitis may have the opposite effect and may irritate the eye)

The causes and treatments of conjunctivitis among newborns and children may differ.

Symptoms of conjunctivitis vary in each child, but may include:

  • Irritation, itchiness and /or burning in your child's eyes
  • Eyelid swelling
  • Redness in the conjunctiva (the white of the eyeball)
  • Discomfort when your child looks at a light
  • Eyelids that are stuck together in the morning
  • Discharge from the eyes that may vary from thin and clear to thick and discolored
  • Sneezing or runny nose
  • Ear infection
  • Wound on eyelids with a crusty appearance

Pink Eye Diagnosis & Treatment at UVA Health Children's

In addition to examining your child, the health care provider may take a sample of fluid from your child’s eyes for testing.

Treatment varies depending on the symptoms, age of your child and the potential cause of the conjunctivitis. Treatments may include:

  • Eye drops (either antibiotic or to relieve allergic symptoms)
  • Oral medications