Pink eye creates perhaps more panic in schools, day cares, and camps than any other harmless problem.
Every week, we see children whose parents have received an alarm from where their child is attending a program: “It looks like your child has pink eye, it is an urgent situation, you must pick up your child right now, and obtain medical attention ASAP,” is how the messages to parents usually are experienced.
Of course, at this point, parents have no choice, who knows that the school or camp is seeing, you are forced to drop everything and retrieve your child, after all the medical alarm has been rung, and who could take a chance that something serious may be going on?
You Rush to Pick up Your Child, Now What Do You Do?
The most important thing to know is that pink eye is almost always completely harmless. As readers of Real Answers with Dr. Lavin know, there are 3 real types of pink eye, and 1 mythic one that does not actually exist.
It’s the mythic version of pink eye that sets off alarms. The whites of the eyes get a bit red, the eyes get a bit goopy, the child rubs their eyes a bit, and the mythic version of pink eye comes to nearly all schools’ and camps’ imagination. It’s a dire condition that puts eye at risk, can spread like wildfire. If there was a pink eye that threatened the eye, or spread like wildfire, then I could justify the level of alarm.
But the good news is that there is on such pink eye. The three types that do in fact exist are the viral pink eye (or cold in the eye), allergic pink eye (or allergies in the eye), and bacterial pink eye (this is the one with lots and lots of pus-like discharge even during the day).
But for now, back to what to do now?
So, after reading this far, you can accomplish the first step- knowing that there really is no alarm, pink eye is very harmless, there is lots of time to figure it out, no version of it is any more contagious than a cold.
The second step is making sure the situation is pink eye. There are reddening of the eye that are not pink eye and can be harmful. These conditions are typically very, very painful. The three types of pink eye can cause discomfort. Viral types can burn even hurt a bit, allergic types are itchy, and bacterial types can burn and hurt a bit too. But the dangerous red conditions of the eye go well beyond these levels of discomfort, causing serious, and severe pain. If that level of pain is present, and such pain is quite unusual when schools and camps observe pink eye, then you need to call us ASAP.
If the level of pain is not severe, the third step is look to see if the eyelids are swollen, red, warm, and tender. If they are fine, and no serious pain is present, again a harmless pink eye is likely present. But if the eyelids are red, swollen, tender, and warm, that could indicate an infection of the eyelid, that is not pink eye, it is a lid cellulitis, and for this too we need to see your child ASAP.
Now, if the eyelids are fine, and the pain is not significant, and the vision is fine, then you very well are looking at a pink eye, and you have the luxury of calling us to discuss when to come in, but the visit can be at your convenience, at times that are available, no emergency in this situation.
- Pink eye is one of the most common conditions we see. It comes in 3 actual types (see below), but there is a 4th type that only lives in the imagination of programs that care for kids, e.g., schools and camps.
- So, if you get the call of alarm from your child’s school or camp, go ahead and pick them up and look for 2 key signs:
- Pain- all pink eye can burn, hurt, or itch, but severe pain is not seen in pink eye.
- Hot, tender, swollen, red eyelids– pink eye does not cause such changes in eyelids
- If there is no significant pain or major changes in the eyelids, feel free to call for an appointment at your convenience, no rush, all 3 types of real pink eye are harmless.
- Of course, if severe pain or lid swelling is present call us ASAP to get guidance.
With allergies so active, allergic pink eye is very common this season, and of course viral pink eye is always around, just as colds are.
To your health,
Dr. Arthur Lavin