Conjunctivitis is a general term that means there is an irritation to the white of the eye. It can be caused by a virus, bacteria, allergies or mild trauma. With all types of conjunctivitis, the white part of the eye may be pink or red, eyelashes are often stuck together and children complain that their eyes itch or burn.


It can be difficulty to tell the difference between conjunctivitis caused by bacteria, viruses and allergies.  All types of conjunctivitis may present with eye redness, itching, discharge and reports that the eyes are crusted shut in the morning.  However, each type has a few distinguishing features.

  • Bacterial conjunctivitis
    • Children with bacterial conjunctivitis have significant amounts of yellow/green discharge from their eyes throughout the day and the lids are often red and swollen.  Interestingly, the eye symptoms are often the only complaints with bacterial conjunctivitis.
  • Viral conjunctivitis
    • The discharge associated with viral conjunctivitis is usually watery or mucous-like and children with viral conjunctivitis often have other symptoms of a viral illness, including runny nose, cough, sore throat, and/or fever.
  • Allergic conjunctivitis
    • Allergic conjunctivitis is caused by airborne allergens. The eyes are usually watery or teary and worse after rubbing the eyes.  History or symptoms of environmental allergies may be present as well.


Conjunctivitis is contagious and can be spread from person to person. To prevent this spread:

  • Discourage rubbing or itching the eyes
  • Practice good hand washing, especially after touching the eyes
  • Use a new washcloth or disposable wipe to clean the eye


  • Antibiotics – if conjunctivitis is thought to be bacterial an antibiotic ointment or drop will be prescribed
    • Use this medication as directed
    • Do no touch the eye with the tube or dropper, do not use this medicine on anyone else
    • Throw out leftover medicine once the treatment is over
    • Wash your hands after applying
  • Allergy eye drops – for allergic conjunctivitis many eye drops exist, please call our office to learn more
    • If allergic conjunctivitis is associated with significant systemic allergy symptoms an oral allergy medicine may be recommended by your provider
  • Cool compress – Applying a cool compress may soothe the eyes and reduce itch
  • Avoid irritants

Takeaway message

Conjunctivitis may be caused by bacteria, viruses or allergies.  Each type has some distinguishing features and is treated and managed differently.

When to call

If you child has conjunctivitis it may be diagnosed and treated over the phone, so, please call our office.  Additionally, if your child is not improving after 2-3 days on prescribed medicine, or if your child has other symptoms including ear pain, swollen eyes or visual changes you can arrange for an office visit using MyChart or you can call during regular business hours.

Additional information:

Additional information on conjunctivitis from the American Academy of Pediatrics