Nonspecific Conjunctivitis (Child)

The conjunctiva is a thin membrane that covers the eye and the inside of the eyelids. It can become irritated. If no reason for this inflammation is found, it is called nonspecific conjunctivitis.

When the conjunctiva becomes inflamed, the eye looks red. Small blood vessels are visible up close. The eye may have a clear or white, cloudy discharge. The eyelids may be swollen and red. There may be morning crusting around the eye. Most likely, the conjunctivitis was caused by a brief irritation. The irritated eye is treated with a soothing nonprescription ointment or eye drops.

Home care

Adult hands putting eyedrops in child's eye.


The healthcare provider may prescribe medicine to ease eye irritation. Follow the healthcare provider’s instructions for giving this medicine to your child.

  • Wash your hands well with soap and warm water before and after caring for your child’s eye.

  • It is common for discharge to form crusts around the eye. Gently wipe crusts away with a wet swab or a clean, warm, damp washcloth. Wipe toward the ear. This is to keep the eye as clean as possible.

  • Try to prevent your child from rubbing the eye.

To apply ointment or eye drops:

  1. Have your child lie down on his or her back.

  2. Using eye drops: Apply drops in the corner of the eye, where the eyelid meets the nose. The drops will pool in this area. When your child blinks or opens his or her lids, the drops will flow into the eye. Give the exact number of drops prescribed. Be careful not to touch the eye or eyelashes with the dropper.

  3. Using ointment: If both drops and ointment are prescribed, give the drops first. Wait 3 minutes, and then apply the ointment. Doing this will give each medicine time to work. To apply the ointment, start by gently pulling down the lower lid. Place a thin line of ointment along the inside of the lid. Begin at the nose and move outward. Close the lid. Wipe away excess medicine from the nose outward. This is to keep the eye as clean as possible. Have your child keep the eye closed for 1 or 2 minutes so the medicine has time to coat the eye. Eye ointment may cause blurry vision. This is normal. Apply ointment right before your child goes to sleep. In infants, the ointment may be easier to apply while your child is sleeping.

  4. Wipe away excess medicine with a clean cloth.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child’s healthcare provider, or as advised.

When to seek medical advice

For a usually healthy child, call the healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Your child has a fever (see Fever and children section, below)

  • Your child has increasing or continuing symptoms.

  • Your child has vision problems (not related to ointment use).

  • Your child shows signs of infection such as increased redness or swelling, worsening pain, or foul-smelling drainage from the eye.

Call 911

Call 911 or local emergency services right away if any of these occur:

  • Your child has trouble breathing

  • Your child shows confusion

  • Your child is very drowsy or has trouble waking up

  • Your child faints or loses consciousness

  • Your child has a rapid heart rate

  • Your child has a seizure

  • Your child has a stiff neck

Fever and children

Always use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Never use a mercury thermometer.

For infants and toddlers, be sure to use a rectal thermometer correctly. A rectal thermometer may accidentally poke a hole in (perforate) the rectum. It may also pass on germs from the stool. Always follow the product maker’s directions for proper use. If you don’t feel comfortable taking a rectal temperature, use another method. When you talk to your child’s healthcare provider, tell him or her which method you used to take your child’s temperature.

Here are guidelines for fever temperature. Ear temperatures aren’t accurate before 6 months of age. Don’t take an oral temperature until your child is at least 4 years old.

Infant under 3 months old:

  • Ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider.

  • Armpit temperature of 99°F (37.2°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider.

Child age 3 to 36 months:

  • Rectal, forehead, or ear temperature of 102°F (38.9°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider.

  • Armpit temperature of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider.

Child of any age:

  • Repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider.

  • Fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under 2 years old. Or a fever that lasts for 3 days in a child 2 years or older.

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