Conjunctivitis is a common eye infection in older babies and toddlers, caused by inflammation of the conjunctiva, (the protective transparent membrane which covers the eye), caused by either a bacterial or more commonly viral infection. Conjunctivitis symptoms include redness, itching, inflammation and a sticky discharge that can form a crust on the eyelids, especially after sleep.

If your child suffers from allergies, he or she may develop allergic conjunctivitis when exposed to a common trigger such as pollen. The intense irritation and itchiness this causes can be treated with a short course of steroid eyedrops or antihistamine tablets.

Newborns can develop a particular form of conjunctivitis called neonatal ophthalmia soon after birth if their mother has chlamydia, herpes or gonorrhoea. A swab will need to be taken to confirm the exact infection before treatment can be given. This is different from the sticky eye that a lot of newborns suffer from in the first 48 hours and can be caused by a blocked tear duct or the physical pressures of the birth.

Diagnosis and treatment

It all depends on the appearance of the eye. If your GP suspects a bacterial infection, he or she will prescribe anti-bacterial eyedrops or ointment to be used morning and night.

It is sometimes difficult to encourage older toddlers to have eyedrops put in, so ask them to lie back and describe something they can see, then count to 10 with them while they blink, which helps bathe the eye in the drops or ointment.

What to do

  • Get an accurate diagnosis of the problem from your GP and eyedrops/ointment if necessary
  • Bathe your child’s eyes daily with warm water to clear away any debris, using a clean piece of cotton wool for each eye to avoid cross infection. Sweep gently from the inner to the outer part of the eye to remove any discharge
  • Give your baby or toddler her own flannel and towel to use and always wash your hands before and after treating or washing the eyes as conjunctivitis is notoriously easy to pass on (For this reason, some nurseries and childminders prefer you to keep your child at home until the infection has cleared up)
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