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On Call: Itchy Eyes

Q. How do you get rid of pinkeye?


A. First of all, make sure it is "pinkeye"  -- the common term for conjunctivitis, an inflammation of the thin, transparent covering of the eye. Allergies can make it pink, and getting something stuck in it, like a speck of dirt, can cause irritation or even a corneal abrasion. So any time your child's eye is red or pink, especially if there's pain, you should call the pediatrician.

The two most common kinds of conjunctivitis are allergic and infectious. Allergic conjunctivitis is usually seen in the spring and fall when the air is full of pollen, and it's treated with prescription eyedrops. Infectious conjunctivitis, which is often accompanied by goopy discharge, can either be caused by a virus or bacteria.

While viral conjunctivitis usually goes away on its own (cool compresses on the eyes can make them feel better), bacterial infections require antibiotics, given in either an ointment that's applied to the inside of the lower lid or eyedrops. Your pediatrician can prescribe them, and your child will need to use them for about five to ten days.

Infectious conjunctivitis is very contagious, which is why schools and daycares require children to stay home until 24 hours after treatment. To minimize the spread at home, encourage your child not to rub his eyes (luckily, the drops and ointment relieve itchiness within a day or two). Wash everyone's hands often, and don't share towels or washcloths.

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