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How Do Toddlers Get Pink Eye?

Pink Eye
Once your child starts attending daycare or school there's going to come a day when you get "the call". Parents who have older kids know what I'm talking about. It's when someone at your child's daycare or school calls you to let you know what your child has pink eye and needs to go home. There are other health issues that could result in you getting "the call" but pink eye is a fairly common one. Some of the other common health calls include fever and vomiting. Kids get sick, there's nothing you can really do to prevent it altogether.
When our son was in kindergarten we got "the call". The school asked us to come pick him right up and then off to the pediatrician we went. When I asked my son what happened at school he said, "The nurse said I have a cranky eye.". Ha, I guess cranky is a good adjective for the condition.
Lets take a look at what pink eye is, how to deal with it when you're faced with it and some steps you can take to try to prevent it.
What is pink eye?
How do you get pink eye?
What are the symptoms of pink eye?
Can a child go to school with pink eye?
Can pink eye go away without treatment?
How long does it take to get rid of pink eye?
Our final take.
What is pink eye?
Pink eye (a.k.a conjunctivitis) is an infection or irritation of the membrane (conjunctiva) that covers the white part of your eyeball and lines your eyelids. Pink eye can affect one or both of your eyes. It's called pink eye because it generally leaves the white of the eye (conjunctiva) red in color. The redness is the result of the inflammation that causes the conjunctiva blood vessels to dilate.
Pink eye is generally more prevalent in young children because they spend so much time in close quarters and place less importance on personally hygiene. Yeah, they're kind of gross in that way but we love them just the same.
If you thought there's only one form of pink eye you're mistaken, there are actually four forms. Two types of pink eye are contagious and will likely have your toddler get sent home early from daycare or school.

Viral Pink Eye

This variant of pink eye is caused by a virus most commonly: adenoviruses, rubella, rubeola, picornaviruses and picorna viruses. This variant is contagious.

Bacterial Pink Eye

This variant is caused by bacteria most commonly: staphylococcus aureus, haemophilus influenzae, streptococcus pneumoniae and moraxella catarrhalis. This variant is also contagious.

Allergic Pink Eye

This variant is caused by allergens such as pollen, animal dander and dust. Allergic conjunctivitis may be seasonal (pollen/molds related) or flare up year-round (animal dander/dust/contacts related). This variant isn't contagious. As unpleasant as it is for the person suffering with this rest assured those around them are safe.

Irritant Pink Eye

This variant is caused by irritants such as smoke and chlorine. This variant isn't contagious either.
How do you get pink eye?
Bacterial and viral forms of pink eye can be transmitted in many of the same ways colds can be transmitted. It could be the result of coming in direct physical contact with an object (i.e. toy or towel) that has been infected or through the air via a cough. Sometimes children get pink eye in combination with an ear infection so if you end up bringing your toddler to a pediatrician make sure their ears are checked out as well. The two things will most likely increase your toddler's chances of getting bacterial or viral forms pink eye in a daycare or school include not washing their hands enough/thoroughly and lots of touching around their face. Keep telling your little ones to wash their hands especially after using the bathroom. Yes, it does get old saying, "wash your hands!" for the five thousandth time but little kids need that repetitive reminder. Allergic and irritant forms of pink eye will occur when an individual is exposed to a trigger allergen or irritant for a long enough period of time.
The triggers for allergic and irritant forms of pink eye are usually easy to control in your own house but once you venture out into the great outdoors your at the mercy of the environment. The same can be said for the daycare or school your child attends.
What are some of the symptoms of pink eye?
There are several common symptoms that may be exhibited by someone suffering from pink eye. You may only see one symptom present or there could be a combination of two or more symptoms. As is the case with any symptoms there's a chance of misdiagnosis so don't hesitate to get it checked out by your pediatrician if you strongly suspect pink eye is the culprit. Some of the more common symptoms include:

- Pink/red colored eyes. No surprise there.

- White/yellow/green crust that forms in the corner of the eye. Sometimes you'll find the crust hanging out in eyelashes. I guess the view is better from there.

- Itchy eyes that cause your toddler to continually rub them. Given the contagiousness of this affliction this is probably one of the best ways to spread it.

- Swollen and/or sore eyelids.

- Watery eyes.

- Increased sensitivity to light.
Generally speaking when someone is suffering from an allergic form of pink eye it appears in both eyes whereas the bacterial and viral forms do often appear in one eye. This is just a generalization though and doesn't provide for a concrete diagnosis.
Can a child go to school with pink eye?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention...

"Schools should allow infected children to remain in school once any indicated therapy is implemented, except when viral or bacterial conjunctivitis is accompanied by systemic signs of illness. However, infected students should refrain from attending school if their behavior is such that they cannot avoid close contact with other students."

In other words the day your child is suspected of having pink eye they're probably headed home and not returning back the same day. If you're lucky it will get caught early in the day and you will hopefully be able to schedule an appointment with your pediatrician on the same day so they can take a look and diagnose what's happening.
If your pediatrician believes it's bacterial pink eye they can prescribe antibiotic drops to address the problem. If however your pediatrician believes it's viral the pink eye will just have to run its course.
In either case consult with your school/daycare nurse/administrator to make sure you understand their policy for returning after a pink eye diagnosis. You don't want to show up with your child the next day only to be turned away. Generally speaking though most schools will let a child return 24 hours after starting an antibiotic in the case of bacterial pink eye.
Can pink eye go away without treatment?
If the doctor suspects that your pink eye is the result of a virus there's no quick fix for that. Similar to other viruses you're just going to have to ride it out and let the virus take its course. So this type of pink eye will go away without treatment.
If the doctor suspects that your pink eye is the result of bacteria they will likely prescribe an antibiotic drop. While this type of pink eye may go away on its own there's also a chance it could further harm your eye if left untreated. Most doctors will lean towards the risks of prescribing an antibiotic (i.e. allergic reactions) rather than suggest you go without using any prescription at all.
If the doctor suspects that your pink eye is the result of an allergen/irritant they'll probably help you try to pinpoint the cause and possibly suggest an over-the-counter remedy. If the allergen/irritant that's causing the pink eye in the first place remains present it stands to reason that the pink eye won't go away.
How long does it take to get rid of pink eye?
In the case of viral pink eye it should go away by itself within several days. If the symptoms persist beyond that consult with your child's pediatrician.
In the case of bacterial pink eye you should see a notable difference within 24 hours of taking a prescription antibiotic. If no antibiotic is taken it could take several days. When using a prescribed antibiotic be sure to use it for the prescribed number of days. If you stop using the antibiotic sooner than the prescribed number of days you run the risk of the condition returning. Changing pillowcases, washcloths and towels daily could also help prevent the return.
In the case of allergen/irritant pink eye you should see a notable difference within 24 hours of taking an over-the-counter for allergy relief or removing the irritant. If the redness persists you may want to consult with your child's pediatrician to make sure it isn't a viral or bacterial thing.
Our final take.
If your toddler gets sent home with pink eye have your pediatrician check it out to try to determine the type. If the doctor deems it's a contagious form of pink eye follow her/his instructions to deal with the condition and check with your child's daycare/school to see when they can return.
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