As the director of a family-owned preschool, Tracy Kinter looks for anything that might spread through her classrooms. She always has an eye out for pink eye.

“When we notice a discharge coming from their eye and they have a yellow or pink/reddish appearance, we call all the parents and say we suspect it, that we aren’t a doctor, we can’t diagnose them, but we do require them to go to the doctor and get a note,” says Kinter.

“Pink eye means inflammation of the conjunctiva, and the conjunctiva is a very thin membrane that lines the inside of the eyelids and also lines the white part of your eye,” says Dr. Anthony Peitroniro, pediatrician with Lee Memorial Health System.

Here are the pink eye red flags: redness or swelling of the whites of the eye, increased tears, discharge, itchiness and crusty eyelids.

“Oftentimes the children will wake up in the morning with their eyes matted shut, usually with bacterial conjunctivitis it kind of persists throughout the day,” says Dr. Peitroniro.

Pink eye can result from a virus, allergies or bacteria. Viral and bacterial versions are highly contagious. Doctors look for clues to determine origin.

“People who have viral conjunctivitis also will have symptoms of a cold at the same time. So it’s not uncommon for people who have pink eye or conjunctivitis to also have a cough, runny nose, sneezing,” says Dr. Peitroniro.

One thing that puzzles parents: how to treat pink eye. The viral version generally resolves itself but many people expect antibiotic drops. They won’t help, unless it’s a bacterial case.

“No, actually viral conjunctivitis does not require any antibiotic eye drops. The best way to treat viral conjunctivitis is actually with warm compresses to the eyes maybe three or four times a day and the best way to prevent it is strict hand washing,” says Dr. Peitroniro.

If drops are prescribed, you shouldn’t share them or save them for later use. Chances are the applicator is contaminated. Kinter has seen first hand how quickly children can pass around pink eye.

“They touch their eyes and touch the toys even though we sanitize everything, it is contagious,” says Kinter.

Relief should be in sight, with time and proper treatment.

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