Viral Conjunctivitis (Child)

Viral conjunctivitis (sometimes called pink eye) is a common infection of the eye. It is very contagious. The most common symptoms include redness, discharge from the eye, swollen eyelids, and a gritty or scratchy feeling in the eye.

Viral conjunctivitis is caused by a virus. It may be treated with medicine. Viral conjunctivitis is very contagious. Touching the infected eye, then touching another person passes this infection. It can also be spread from one eye to the other in this same way.

Check with your healthcare provider, daycare, or school to see when it's OK for your child to return to school or daycare. Since viral conjunctivitis is very contagious, the safest option is to keep your child home until there is no eye discharge. Because this is not always possible for many families, many daycares and schools allow children to return as long as they have been on eye drops for 24 hours, feel well, and can avoid close contact with others.


Home care

Your child’s healthcare provider may prescribe eye drops or an ointment. These may or may not contain antiviral medicine to treat the infection. You may also be told to use artificial tears to help soothe the irritation. Follow all instructions when using these medicines.

To give eye medicine to a child

  1. Adult hands putting eyedrops in child's eye.Wash your hands well with soap and warm water.

  2. Remove any drainage from your child’s eye with a clean tissue. Wipe toward the ear, to keep the eye as clean as possible.

  3. To remove eye crusts, wet a washcloth with warm water and place it over the eye. Wait about 1 minute. Gently wipe the eye from the nose outward with the washcloth. Do this until the eye is clear. Important: If both eyes need cleaning, use a separate cloth for each eye.

  4. Have your child lie down on a flat surface. A rolled-up towel or pillow may be placed under the neck so that the head is tilted back. Gently hold your child’s head, if needed.

  5. 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.

  6. 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 ointment from the nose area outward. This is to keep the eyes as clean as possible. Have your child keep the eye closed for 1 or 2 minutes so the medication 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, ointment may be easier to apply while your child is sleeping.

  7. Wash your hands well with soap and warm water again. This is to help prevent the infection from spreading.

General care

  • Apply a damp, cool washcloth to the eye as needed to help ease pain and irritation.

  • Make sure your child doesn’t rub his or her eyes.

  • Shield your child’s eyes when in direct sunlight to avoid irritation.

Follow-up care

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

Special note to parents

To avoid spreading the infection, wash your hands well with soap and warm water before and after touching your child’s eyes. Have your child wash his or her hands often. Make sure your child doesn’t touch his or her eyes. Dispose of all tissues. Launder washcloths after each use. Don’t let your child share towels, bedding, or clothes with anyone.

When to seek medical advice

Unless your child's healthcare provider advises otherwise, call the provider right away if any of these occur:

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

  • Your child has vision changes, such as trouble seeing.

  • Your child shows signs of the infection getting worse, such as more warmth, redness, swelling, or fluid leaking from the eye.

  • Your child’s pain gets worse. Babies may show pain as crying or fussing that can’t be soothed.

  • Swelling and redness don’t get better with treatment.

Call 911

Call 911 or local emergency services if your child has any of these:

  • Trouble breathing

  • Confusion

  • Extreme drowsiness or trouble awakening

  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Seizure

  • 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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