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Pink Eye in Children: What Parents Need to Know

Pink eye is a common condition among young kids, but how can you, as a parent, help take care of your child’s eyes? Read on to find out more.

Pink eye in children

What is pink eye?

Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is common in young children, but adolescents and adults can still get it too. This happens when the conjunctiva, the lining that covers the inner eyelids and the eyeball, becomes irritated and swollen.

In most cases, it is not serious and may resolve on its own. Other times, however, it may need treatment such as antibiotic or antiviral eye drops.

What causes it?

Pink eye can be caused by bacteria or viruses that are usually also the culprit for colds and various types of ear-nose-and-throat infections. These types are contagious. If it’s an infection from bacteria such as Haemophilus influenzae, the pink eye can also be accompanied by an ear infection.

However, cases of pink eye that result from allergens or irritants in the environment may be alleviated with antihistamines

What are the symptoms of pink eye in kids?

Pink eye may present with the following signs and symptoms:

  • red/pink eyes
  • Crusty, swollen eyelids
  • Itchy, burning, watery eyes
  • Pus or mucus discharge from eyes
  • Light sensitivity
  • Feeling of having something in the eye
  • Blurred vision
Pay attention when your child is excessively rubbing her eyes.

When should I worry?

Pink eye in newborns

If your newborn has red, puffy eyelids or has discharge from the eyes, they may have pink eye and require immediate medical attention. Left untreated, severe health issues can arise.

Pink eye in babies may also be caused by blocked or incompletely opened tear ducts. In some cases, blocked tear ducts can open without any intervention. Other times, your baby’s doctor may teach you how to give your baby a special massage to open the membrane covering the duct.

In cases where your child’s doctor detects an infection, they may prescribe antibiotics.

Persistent or worsening pink eye

If your child’s pink eye does not get better within two to three days of treatment, or within one week if untreated, contact your doctor. 

Furthermore, if you observe that your child has developed more swelling, redness and tenderness in the eyelids and around the eyes, and a fever, seek medical attention immediately.

TCM view on pink eye in children

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) says that eye problems in babies and young children may be due to the external environment. Excess heat within the body can cause problems such as red eyes. Wind can result in watery eyes, while dampness can increase eye discharge.

TCM physician Lim Sock Sing adds that children are usually fussy with what food they eat, thereby potentially causing an accumulation of heat in the digestive system. This, in addition to the fact that they may have also overlooked washing their hands before touching their eyes.

What can I do as a parent?

Both TCM and Western medicine agree that proper hygiene is essential in the prevention of pink eye. 

Especially for toddlers–who are prone to touching everything and then touching their faces and putting things in their mouths–parents can care for their child’s vision by:

  • Practicing proper handwashing techniques especially before touching the eyes
  • Not sharing towels
  • Not sharing eye drops, pillowcases, tissues, washcloths
  • Limiting allergen exposure
  • Avoiding potential irritants such as household chemicals

TCM supplements for eye health

Eye health is connected to the elements and corresponding organs, while eye diseases are connected to environmental disruptions and pathogens. 

Because TCM is a holistic approach, diet is an important part of maintaining eye health. To prevent dry, red, or swollen eyes, your child may benefit from the following ingredients:

Chrysanthemum

A cup of chrysanthemum tea

Yellow chrysanthemum flowers disperse wind and clear heat. White chrysanthemum flowers support the Liver and improves vision. Wild chrysanthemum flowers expel heat and decrease toxicity.

Honeysuckle

The Honeysuckle Flower (shan yin hua) manages the Lung, Heart, and Stomach meridians. It is also used to soothe inflammation, while both the flower and the stem ease early symptoms of flu.

Dendrobium 

As well as governing the Stomach and Kidney meridians, Dendrobium (shi hu) also eases digestive discomfort and sustains the kidney system to nurture vision and sleep quality.

Cassia seed

Consuming cassia seeds (jue ming zi) helps remove wind-heat in the Liver as well as combats eye diseases due to Liver fire, Wind-Heat, or a deficiency in the Liver.

Dodder seed

This herb governs the Liver, Kidney, and Spleen meridians. Among its many functions are alleviating eye discomfort and nourishing the liver and kidney.

Mint

Consumed as peppermint tea, this herb helps ease symptoms resulting from Wind-Heat in the head, eyes, and throat.

Puncturevine caltrop fruit

The fruit of this herb is used to provide relief for painful eyes, skin irritation, and tender mammary glands. It also helps with dizzy or giddy spells and other hypertension-related symptoms.

Final thoughts on pink eye in children

TCM physician Lim says that early treatment is key if your child experiences an eye problem especially between the ages of 0 to 6, describing these years as a “critical period” in their development.

Eye health can be maintained with both proper eye care and treatment, if necessary.

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