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If your baby's eyes are red and leaking discharge, there's a good chance he has pinkeye. This condition can be caused by a virus, bacterium, or allergen, and all three require a different treatment approach. Watch the video to learn more about diagnosing and treating pinkeye, as well as how to help your baby stay comfortable.
Dr. Dawn Rosenberg, M.D., FAAP, is a board-certified general pediatrician in San Francisco. She is very committed to teaching and is actively involved in medical student and resident education as an associate clinical professor in the Department of Pediatrics at University of California, San Francisco.
Pinkeye is common in babies and usually mild. If your baby's eyes look pink and irritated, are tearing excessively, and are leaking goop or crust, chances are she has pinkeye. It's usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection but can also be due to an allergy or irritation.
When a virus or bacteria causes pinkeye, it's highly contagious. You should take precautions to keep the infection from spreading amongst family members. Avoid sharing beds and clothing, and don't let the kids snuggle with the same pillows or stuffed animals.
With pinkeye from a viral infection, your baby will also have cold symptoms, like congestion and a runny nose. Sometimes, there's a low-grade fever or even mild swelling of the eyelids.
If your baby has bacterial pinkeye, her eyes may have thick and copious yellow discharge, and her eyelids may stick together.
Allergic pinkeye is less common in babies, but an irritant like dust, pollen, or smoke may cause your baby's eyes to water or itch. A clue that your baby may have an allergy would be a persistent runny nose along with bloodshot eyes.
A blocked tear duct, called nasolacrimal duct obstruction, may be mistaken for pinkeye. If it is a blocked duct, your baby's eyes would be goopy but not bloodshot. This is really common. Twenty percent or more of babies have a blocked tear duct in their first year of life.
Treatment for pinkeye depends on which type your baby has. Viral pinkeye will usually go away on its own over the course of a week. I recommend using a warm compress for relief and washing your baby's eyes with warm water to clear away the discharge. If the conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic eye ointment or drop to treat the infection. It's best to use these topical antibiotics multiple times a day, as directed, and to complete the course, which may be up to a week. For allergic or irritant conjunctivitis, the goal is to figure out the offending agent. Often a cool compress provides some relief.
The best way to prevent pinkeye is to practice great hygiene. Regular and thorough hand-washing goes a long way.
Call your baby's doctor if she shows any signs of pinkeye. If the pinkeye is bacterial, it's best to treat it right away to prevent the germs from spreading.
Don't worry. Most of the time, conjunctivitis is mild and caused by viruses that resolve on their own.
Video production by Paige Bierma.