Kids MD - Viral Conjunctivitis (ER Story)

Viral Conjunctivitis (ER Story)

Collin Siedor | CWK Network

"Alright, you need to put a cold water compress on there and hold it over her eyes,probably three or four or five times a day."
- Dr. Kathleen Nelson, professor of pediatrics-

Parents, teachers and daycare workers call it "pink eye." Physicians call it conjunctivitis. It's the same thing: an inflammation in the eyes that turns them pink or red. How to treat conjunctivitis depends on the cause, and that diagnosis is often determined by a process of elimination.

Dr. Kathleen Nelson, professor of pediatrics at University of Alabama's School of Medicine, examines the eyes of a little girl in the hospital emergency room. She asks, "Are they hurting you? Do they hurt?" The child shakes her head no.

But the little girl's eyes are red, and her mother, Diane McGill, says they have been getting worse. Four days ago she got a prescription for antibiotic eye drops, "and every four hours we would put in two drops in each eye," she explains.

"How easy was that to do?" Dr. Nelson asks.

"It was like chasing a gorilla," McGill answers.

That gorilla is five-year-old Stephanie. She has a runny nose, a cough, congestion and a yellowish discharge around her eyes -- all signs of an infection.

"There is lots of inflammation both on her eyeballs as well as on her eye lids underneath," Dr. Nelson says while examining Stephanie.

But what's the cause? After four days of eye drops, Dr. Nelson says it's clear the antibiotics aren't working, so it's probably not bacterial. It could be an allergy, but "usually you have a lot of sneezing and other kinds of allergy symptoms; the predominant eye symptom is itching rather than discharge," explains Dr. Nelson.

And, she adds that with an allergy, the discharge is typically watery -- not yellow as it has been for Stephanie.

"And that leaves me with a viral cause for the eye infection, and that to my mind sounds the most reasonable, given the fact that she has other cold symptoms," Dr. Nelson says.

The doctor explains that the virus will last about a week and there's not much you can do except treat the cold symptoms, use a cool compress on her eyes, and wait.

But there is good news, says Dr. Nelson. "She's about five days into the infection so when a week is gone I would suspect that if it's not completely better, it's certainly getting better."

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