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Conjunctivitis in babies and children

Your baby or child may have conjunctivitis if their eyes turn red or pink, or if there's a discharge from their eyes. Get urgent help if they're less than 4 weeks old.

Pink or red eyes are a sign that your child may have conjunctivitis. This is when the clear lining that covers the white part of the eye and the inside of the eyelids becomes inflamed. It usually affects both eyes.

Viral_conjunctivitis
Child with viral conjunctivitis

Symptoms

The symptoms of conjunctivitis include:

  • the whites of the eyes turning red or pink
  • sticky eyes with green, yellow or clear discharge
  • itchy, gritty or sore eyes
  • eyes watering more than usual
  • swollen eyes
  • flu-like feelings - sore throat, runny nose, cough, fever, aches and pains
Bacterial_conjunctivitis
Bacterial conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis_in_a_newborn_baby
Conjunctivitis in a newborn baby

When to get medical help

Take your child to the GP if they have these symptoms for 2 days or more, or if they are very bothered by these symptoms:

  • one or two red eyes
  • painful or uncomfortable eyes

Take your baby to your GP if you think they have conjunctivitis. Do this immediately if your baby is less than 24 hours old.

Take your child to the GP if they have sticky eyes for 2 weeks or more.

Get an urgent GP appointment, or take your child to the emergency department, if:

  • they're less than 4 weeks old
  • they're in severe pain
  • they feel more pain when looking at light (photophobia)
  • their vision is blurry even after you've cleaned their eyes
  • there's a chance something could be in their eye, such as sand or grit
  • they have a rash - your child could have an infection like measles
  • they wear contact lenses

Related topic

Sticky eyes - babies and toddlers

Treatment

Your doctor may either:

  • prescribe antibiotic eye drops if the conjunctivitis is caused by bacterial infection
  • prescribe antihistamine medicines if the conjunctivitis is caused by an allergy
  • tell you how to ease the symptoms at home if the conjunctivitis is caused by a virus

Ease the symptoms at home

You can help your child to feel better by cleaning their eyes to remove any discharge.

  1. Wash your hands.
  2. Wet a clean cotton ball or pad with cooled boiled water.
  3. Gently wipe your child’s eye from the inner corner to the outer corner - use a new cotton ball for each wipe.
  4. Dry the eye using a different cotton ball, wiping from the inside corner out.
  5. Wash your hands.
Gently_wipe_with_a_clean_cotton_pad_from_inner_to_outer_corner_of_eye
Gently wipe with a clean cotton pad from inner to outer corner of eye

Using breast milk to treat conjunctivitis

There is no evidence putting breast milk in your baby's eyes clears conjunctivitis. But it is unlikely to cause harm. Never put formula milk into your baby's eyes.

Stop conjunctivitis from spreading

Conjunctivitis is easy to spread if it's caused by a virus or bacterial infection. You can try to prevent your child passing it on by:

  • making sure they wash their hands often
  • telling them not to touch or rub their eyes
  • washing their hands immediately if they've touched their eyes
  • not sharing face cloths, towels or pillows with other people

There is no medical reason for your child to stay home from school or childcare unless they feel unwell. But many childcare facilities and childminders have their own policies about conjunctivitis. Speak to your childcare provider if your child has conjunctivitis.

Page last reviewed: 17/05/2019
Next review due: 17/05/2022