Conjunctivitis In Children: Should I Go To The Doctor Immediately?

Conjunctivitis is listed as one of the most common diseases of the eyes. In particular, children and infants are affected. Adults can also become infected. Characteristic are reddened watery or burning eyes. Generally, the inflammation can affect one or both eyes.

Numerous causes trigger eye inflammation. These include bacteria, viruses, fungi, but also allergies, and more. Depending on the cause, conjunctivitis is highly contagious. If you experience potential symptoms of inflammation, you should seek urgent medical attention.

Conjunctivitis: Children Often Affected

Within medicine, conjunctivitis is referred to as conjunctivitis. It describes an acute or chronic inflammation of the conjunctiva, which occurs particularly frequently in children and infants.

The conjunctiva is a mucous membrane within the eye socket, located in the anterior part of the eye segment. In principle, there are a variety of different causes that trigger inflammation of the conjunctiva.

Characteristic are reddened eyes, swelling of the conjunctiva as well as itching, a foreign body sensation in the eye, burning eyes, or slight pain. Changes in the mucous membranes can also occur.

How To Recognize Conjunctivitis In Infants And Children

Regardless of the cause of conjunctivitis, the symptoms are always very similar.

  • Burning in the eyes.
  • A squeezing feeling in the eyes.
  • Swollen conjunctiva.
  • Significantly increased lacrimation.
  • Clogged eyes.
  • Red eyes.
  • Secretions from the eyes.

A particularly important sign of conjunctivitis concerns red eyes. All symptoms can be present in different degrees. At the beginning of the disease, eye inflammation may occur exclusively on one side. In the course of the disease, however, it usually spreads to both eyes.

It is worth mentioning at this point: unilateral inflammations are in most cases worse than bilateral ones.

Infectious Conjunctivitis Is Associated With Further Symptoms

The variety of different symptoms depends, among other things, on the cause. If it is conjunctivitis caused by bacteria, there is usually an increased secretion of watery, mucous, and possibly also purulent secretions.

Due to these secretions, the eyes are very sticky in the morning. Furthermore, conjunctivitis, which is caused by various pathogens, can bring further symptoms:

  • The feeling of having a foreign body in the eye.
  • An unpleasant feeling of pressure on the eye.
  • A marked sensitivity to light.
  • An increased production of tears.
  • A spasmodic closing of the eyelids.
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Bacterial and viral conjunctivitis may also be characterized by minor protrusions within the conjunctiva.

Conjunctivitis In Children Can Have Several Causes

Not all conjunctivitis is contagious. The decisive factor for the likelihood of infection is the cause. In many cases, conjunctivitis is triggered by infections with different pathogens. For example, bacteria, fungi, or viruses can cause the disease.

In such pathogen-related cases, the inflammation is always contagious. In addition, eye inflammation can be caused by allergies or external stimuli. For example, by an injury or by foreign bodies in the eyes. UV light, dust, or smoke can also cause red eyes and conjunctivitis. In these cases, there is no risk of infection.

These Bacteria Cause Conjunctivitis In Children

Bacterial inflammation of the eyes is not uncommon. Various types of bacteria can be behind it.


Colonize the mucous membranes or the skin of affected persons. Generally, such an infection begins on one side, with an acute course, and spread to the second side. The purulent secretion is moderate. In rare cases, an ulcer may form on the cornea.


These bacteria are spread exclusively through sexual intercourse. In this context, newborns are especially at risk. Infants can become infected during birth from their mothers. The eyes form very strong secretions.

In addition, water retention often forms within the eyelids. It is possible to administer a special eye ointment to infants once immediately after delivery.


Similar to gonococci, chlamydia is also transmitted during sexual intercourse. On the one hand, babies can become infected during or after delivery from their mothers. On the other hand, poor hygienic conditions ensure that infection is also possible via water, for example in swimming pools.

Both one eye and both eyes can be affected. Frequently, purulent secretions are formed. Furthermore, the affected eyelid may swell.


Frequently, bacterial conjunctivitis is based on infection with staphylococci. In detail, the inflammation is triggered by the bacterium Staphylococcus Aureus. Symptomatically, staphylococcal ophthalmitis is characterized by moderate production of mucus.

Haemophilus Influenzae

This is the bacterium that causes the most frequent conjunctivitis in children. Secretions from the eyes are usually watery rather than mucous.

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Treatment Of Bacterial Conjunctivitis In Children

Conjunctivitis caused by bacteria does not necessarily need to be treated. The inflammation often heals on its own after a few days. However, eye drops or ointments can significantly support the healing process. The respective drops or ointments contain, among other things, a broad-spectrum antibiotic.

However, if the inflammation of the conjunctiva is very severe, it is necessary to identify the pathogen and target it with an appropriate antibiotic. Here, too, the therapy is carried out with the help of eye drops but can be supplemented by accompanying tablets or juices.

Viral Conjunctivitis: Children At Risk From Childhood Diseases

Conjunctivitis can also be caused by viruses. There are two particularly common types of viruses that cause disease.

Herpes Viruses

The course of the inflammation is very mild in most cases. In addition to the eye itself, the skin around the eyes can also be affected by herpes.


Generally, adenoviruses cause general diseases, which can also have a febrile course. These general diseases are often accompanied by conjunctivitis, which is highly contagious.

In addition to the secretion of a watery secretion, there is a considerable hypersensitivity to light. In this context, it is also referred to as photophobia.

Furthermore, various childhood diseases such as measles, mumps, or rubella can cause inflammation of the conjunctiva in children. For this reason, too, a medical presentation of the affected child is always advisable.

Viral Conjunctivitis: Treating Children Correctly

In the case of viral conjunctivitis, no specific therapy is usually considered. However, cold compresses and artificial tears can be used as a supportive measure. This can alleviate the symptoms of virus-related inflammation.

However, if herpes viruses are responsible for conjunctivitis in the infant or child, suitable medication can be administered. The active ingredient aciclovir can be used to specifically combat herpes viruses.

When Parasites Trigger Conjunctivitis In Children

Conjunctivitis triggered by parasites occurs primarily in tropical areas. The cause is usually fly larvae or worms.

Very often allergies are the triggers for conjunctivitis in infants or children. In this case, physicians speak of rhinoconjunctivitis. The reason is hypersensitivity to allergy-causing substances.

People with hay fever very often suffer from accompanying conjunctivitis, which is not only noticeable by red eyes. Often this form of conjunctivitis is associated with severe itching and burning of the eyes.

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Furthermore, in this case, the eyes secrete a watery secretion. Eyelid swelling, sneezing, and rhinitis are also common symptoms associated with allergy-related conjunctivitis.

Conjunctivitis: Treating Children With Allergies

In the case of allergy-related conjunctivitis, it is necessary to locate the allergy-causing substance and avoid it in the future or start appropriate anti-allergic therapy.

The discomfort caused by the inflammation can be relieved with cold compresses and artificial tears. Eye drops containing cortisone, which have a decongestant effect, are also used.

Hyposensitization to the allergen is recommended. In this case, the triggering allergen is administered in increasing doses over three years, so that the immune system of the affected person slowly reduces the hypersensitivity. Allergic reactions such as conjunctivitis can thus be prevented in the long term.

External Stimuli As Triggers Of Conjunctivitis In Infants And Children

In practice, external stimuli are not uncommon as triggers of conjunctivitis. Almost any substance can cause corresponding eye inflammation. Generally, these conjunctivitides heal without further consequences for the child. Examples of external stimuli are UV rays, strong friction of the eyes, smoke, or even the sand on the playground.

Treatment For Conjunctivitis Caused By External Stimuli

The foremost treatment for irritation-induced conjunctivitis is the application of eye drops and cold compresses. This significantly reduces the discomfort. In addition, the responsible stimuli must be avoided as far as possible. If avoidance is not possible, the eyes of the affected person should at least be protected.

Conjunctivitis In Infants And Children – The Course Is Usually Favorable

In most cases, conjunctivitis is relatively mild. Consequences for the eye or visual abilities usually do not occur. However, if the conjunctivitis is very severe, loss of visual acuity may be the consequence. In such cases, not only the conjunctiva is inflamed, but also the cornea.

Duration Of Conjunctivitis In Children

The duration of conjunctivitis depends on the cause. The range is between a few days and several weeks. In many cases, the symptoms of conjunctivitis increase within the first few days and completely subside after ten to 14 days.

As a guideline, acute conjunctivitis heals after a maximum of two weeks, while chronic inflammation can last up to four weeks.

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Preventing Conjunctivitis – This Is How It Works

Preventive measures about conjunctivitis are only possible to a limited extent. External stimuli that cause inflammation should be avoided. In case of existing allergies, it is important to avoid the allergen, to prevent with antihistamines, or to consider hypersensitization.

FAQs About Conjunctivitis Children

1. Which doctor is responsible for treating conjunctivitis?
Generally, the inflammation can be treated well by the pediatrician. Alternatively, the ophthalmologist is responsible.

2. What causes conjunctivitis?
There are many causes of conjunctivitis. On the one hand, bacteria, viruses, or fungi can cause the disease. On the other hand, external stimuli and allergies are considered potential triggers.

3. Which medication can be considered for conjunctivitis?
If it is a bacterial inflammation of the conjunctiva, antibiotics can be administered if necessary. In other cases, usually, only eye drops and possibly an eye ointment are prescribed. Cold compresses may also help relieve the condition.

4. Which Conjunctivitis Is Contagious?
All inflammations caused by viruses, bacteria, or fungi are considered highly infectious and therefore contagious.

5. What conjunctivitis is not contagious?
Eye inflammation caused by external stimuli or allergies is not contagious.

6. Why does conjunctivitis not go away?
For one thing, it may be chronic inflammation. On the other hand, an allergy may be the trigger. In any case, you should see a doctor if your child’s conjunctivitis does not go away.

7. Does fever count as a symptom of conjunctivitis?
Generally, fever is not one of the symptoms of acute or chronic conjunctivitis. However, adenoviruses, for example, can trigger an infection, the symptoms of which include conjunctivitis and fever. You should see a doctor in any case.

8. Do conjunctivitis always occur in both eyes?
In most cases, the inflammation affects only one eye. However, in the course of the disease, spread to the second eye is possible.

9. Does my child have to stay at home with conjunctivitis?
Since conjunctivitis caused by viruses, bacteria, and fungi is highly contagious, you must have your child’s illness checked out by a doctor until your child returns to a community facility.

10. Are there any home remedies for conjunctivitis in children?
Cold compresses, which can be applied to closed eyes, relieve pain and itching. They also help to reduce swelling of the eyelids.

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