Common ailments

Conjunctivitis

My five year old daughter woke up yesterday with a very pink, sore eye and a sticky yellow discharge on her eyelids and lashes. I cleaned her eyelids and lashes with some cotton wool soaked in cool boiled water but she’s woken with the same problem again today. What should I do?

It sounds as though your daughter has conjunctivitis. This is a very common eye infection which is caused either by a bacterial infection or an allergy. It can affect one or both eyes but if the infection is bacterial then it will usually start in one eye and then spread to the other eye. A yellow discharge, rather than a clear, watery discharge, usually indicates that the cause is a bacterial infection. This also means the condition is infectious and can be passed from one eye to the other, as well from one person to another.

Using cotton wool soaked in boiled, cooled water is in fact the best way to gently soothe and clean away any crusty discharge from the eyelids.  However, if the infection starts to spread to the other eye then make sure you use a separate piece of cotton wool for each eye. There are also a few things you can do to prevent the infection from spreading. These include making sure your daughter washes her hands frequently and avoids touching or rubbing her eyes. She should also avoid using towels that are shared with other people.

In the meantime, I would advise that you contact your local pharmacist for advice. There are treatments the pharmacist can supply or they may advise you to take your daughter to your GP. Your GP will be able to confirm the cause of the problem (e.g. allergy, bacterial or viral infection) and prescribe the appropriate treatment which is likely to be in the form of eye drops. It should clear up in a few days with a course of treatment if it is due to a bacterial cause. If allergy or hay fever is the problem then it should respond quickly to treatment, but the drops may need to be continued during the hay fever season. Conjunctivitis isn’t usually serious and shouldn’t cause any damage to your daughter’s eyes or long-term vision.

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