With School Back in Session, What Germs Will Your Child Bring Home?

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Now that your kids are back in school and you're back to embracing morning routines (and nightly assignments), you need to prepare for the inevitable: viruses and bacteria are back in session too.

As a parent you're probably on the lookout for colds and flus, but pink eye is another highly contagious infection that can quickly spread throughout the classroom. And, getting educated can help in case your child comes home with something other than homework.

What is pink eye?

Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is an inflammation of the thin, clear covering of the white of the eye and inside of the eyelids. Anything that triggers inflammation will cause these conjunctival blood vessels to dilate and appear pink or red.

Rebecca Kurzon, MD, an ophthalmologist at AdventHealth, says its often difficult to tell the difference between infectious causes and non-infectious causes.

Call your doctor if your child has a pink eye and discharge and especially if he or she has eye pain as that may be a sign there is something more serious going on, she cautions.

What causes pink eye?

There are three common types of conjunctivitis, and they're based on cause

  • Viral conjunctivitis Just as you may have suspected, its caused by a virus, like a common cold. Viral conjunctivitis is highly contagious but less common in school-age children. Also, antibiotic drops aren't useful for viral infections.
  • Bacterial conjunctivitis Its caused by bacteria, and unlike the viral variety, antibiotics can shorten the course and prevent the spread of infection.
  • Allergic conjunctivitis Children with allergies to animals and pollen can be particularly susceptible to conjunctivitis by exposure to eye irritants. Normally conjunctivitis is not a seasonal infection, but allergic reactions are an exception.

How to treat pink eye

If your child contracts conjunctivitis, keep in mind that its relatively common, especially during the school year, and its harmless in most cases. As long as your child is out of the classroom (don't forget that its contagious!) eye-drops and time are the perfect remedy for clearing up pink eye.

The main thing you want to remember is hygiene when it comes to pink eye. Other than that, there are no real preventative measures, but the best way to combat pink eye is to have your children wash their hands frequently and keep from touching their eyes. Obviously, that's a hard thing to do sometimes with kids, explains Dr. Kurzon.

If you're using a wet washcloth or any other fabric to clean the eye, make sure you don't share it or use it yourself. Simple precautions can go a long way to making sure you don't contract conjunctivitis too.

Overall, pink eye presents low risk to the eye and can be just as much a part of childhood as a skinned knee or a toothache. If the time comes, be ready, stay clean, and if something seems out of the ordinary, see your pediatrician or ophthalmologist. 

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