Child Specialist & Neonatologist


Conjunctivitis is a common eye infection, especially among children under five. It is an inflammation (swelling and redness) of the conjunctiva which is the clear membrane that covers the white part of the eye and the inner surface of the eyelids.

Signs and symptoms

Conjunctivitis can be caused by an infection (virus or bacteria) or by an allergic reaction. It is not always clear which type of conjunctivitis is present, because both cause redness and swelling of the conjunctiva. Symptoms usually develop within 24 to 72 hours of becoming infected and last from two days to three weeks.

Bacterial Conjunctivits

Both eyes are almost always infected with bacterial conjunctivitis, although it may start in just one eye. There is likely to be a gritty feeling and pus.

Viral Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis from a virus may involve one or both eyes, causing red itchy eyes with a ‘weepy’ discharge.


There will often be other signs of hay fever if the inflammation is the result of an allergy. Signs can include an itchy, runny nose and sneezing or a history of other allergic conditions. The eyes are itchy and watery.

Other Symptoms

  • redness behind the eyelid, spreading up the white of the eye
  • swelling of the eye/s making them appear puffy
  • excessive tears
  • a discharge from the eye which dries when the child sleeps, causing crusting around the eyelids
  • a dislike of bright lights (photophobia)


Viral conjunctivitis

There is no specific treatment and it will get better on its own. Gentle cleaning of the eyes with cotton balls soaked in warm water may help them feel better. Clean in one direction only (either towards the nose from the outside in, or away from the nose, whichever is easier). Discard the cotton ball each time to prevent recontamination. DO NOT try to clean inside the eyelids as this may cause damage to the conjunctiva.

Bacterial conjunctivitis

This form of conjunctivitis may need antibiotic ointment or drops prescribed by a doctor. Treatment should be applied to both eyes, even if only one eye appears to be infected.

Allergic conjunctivitis

Sore, inflamed eyes due to allergies may be helped by treatments used in conditions such as hay fever, eg antihistamines.