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Sticky eyes and conjunctivitis (babies and toddlers)

It's common for babies to have yellow discharge from the eyes. You can clean your baby's eyes to help unblock their tear ducts. Sometimes discharge is a sign of conjunctivitis and you'll need to see your GP.

Having yellow discharge in the eyes (known as 'sticky eyes') is common in newborns and small babies.

Sticky eyes are often caused by a blocked tear duct. Usually your baby's eyes will get better on their own.

You should tell your GP or public health nurse that your baby gets sticky eyes the next time you see them. They can show you how to massage your baby's tear duct to unblock it.

Pink or red eyes is a sign that your baby may have conjunctivitis - you'll need to take them to the GP.

Treatment

You'll need to clean your baby's eyes if they've become crusted and your baby has trouble opening them.

  1. Wash your hands.
  2. Wet a sterile cotton ball with saline solution.
  3. Gently wipe your baby's eye from the inside corner to the outside 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.

Your GP may give you a referral to see a specialist if your baby's eye is still sticky after 12 months.

Infection

Sometimes your baby's tear duct can become blocked and they can get an infection.

You should take your baby to the GP if:

  • their sticky eye is getting worse
  • their eye looks red and sore
  • they're rubbing their eyes a lot
  • you think they're in pain
  • they won't open their eyes
  • you think they might have conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis

Symptoms include:

  • the whites of the eyes turning red or pink
  • sticky eyes
  • eyes watering more than usual
  • swollen eyes
  • yellow or green discharge from the eyes
A child with conjunctivitis
A child with conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis is caused by the thin skin on the front of the eye becoming infected.

Take your baby to your GP if you think they have conjunctivitis. Your GP will usually prescribe antibiotic eye drops.

If your baby has discharge from their eyes, you should clean them using the same method as cleaning sticky eyes.

Take your baby to your GP immediately if they are less than 24 hours old and you think they have conjunctivitis

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE.

Page last reviewed: 14/11/2018
Next review due: 14/11/2021