You notice that your toddler’s eyes are watery and red and the first thing that comes to mind is pink eye. But is it pink eye? Most likely, yes.

But while it certainly looks bad and could be contagious, chances are that it’s just a mild infection similar to the common cold. According to the National Eye Institute, NEI, pink eye is among the most prevalent eye infections in the U.S., with more than 3 million cases reported yearly. 

While it can be upsetting watching your child suffer from pink eye, know that it looks worse than it really is. But to answer the burning question “Should I take my toddler to the urgent care for pink eye?” first, you need to understand what pink eye is all about. 

What Exactly is Pink Eye and How Do You Know If Your Toddler Has It?

Conjunctivitis, more commonly referred to as pink eye, occurs when the membrane that lines your lids and eyes, the conjunctiva, becomes inflamed. 

When this occurs, the eyes’ white parts will appear red or pink, which is usually a surefire warning sign of pink eye in small children, as the blood vessels of eyes become inflamed because of allergies, irritants, or infection. 

Pink eye can affect one or both of the eyes and could be transmissible depending on the cause. Pink eye symptoms could differ from one individual to another, but usually, include the following: 

  • A red or pink tint to the whites of the eyes
  • Eye pain that could include burning or itching
  • Watery or gritty discharge from the eyes that makes the eyelids stick together
  • Swollen eye area
  • Unusual sensitivity to lights
  • Excessive tearing

How Do You Get Pink Eye: The Different Types and Common Causes

It’s vital to point out that pink eye comes in different types and is caused by different things. These are: 

  • Allergic Conjunctivitis – This kind of pink eye occurs in individuals who typically get allergies. It occurs when you become exposed to an allergen or trigger that can, in turn, lead to an allergic reaction. Allergic conjunctivitis can either be seasonal or perennial, with the seasonal type being the most common. Seasonal conjunctivitis is elicited by pollen from weeds, flowering plants, and grass, as well as mold spores, while perennial conjunctivitis is triggered by allergens like dust, dust mites, animal dander or fur, and feathers. There’s also a less common kind of allergic conjunctivitis called giant papillary conjunctivitis, which is a result of eye irritation from a foreign body like contact lenses. 
  • Bacterial Conjunctivitis – Viral or bacterial infections are the main causes of infectious conjunctivitis. This is the most common kind of conjunctivitis and is notorious for spreading very easily and rapidly. Streptococcal or staphylococcal bacteria typically cause this pink eye type. It can be transmitted via hand to eye or person to person contact, or contact with an infected object like contact lenses or makeup. There’s also neonatal conjunctivitis, which is an immensely serious kind of bacterial pink eye that occurs in newborns. Exposure to chlamydia or gonorrhea in the mother’s birth canal is its main cause. To avoid this, antibiotic ointment or drops are given to babies upon being birthed. Do note that this antibiotic treatment may result in mild pink eye in some babies, which will clear up on its own. 
  • Viral Conjunctivitis – Adenovirus, which is a virus related to the common cold and respiratory illnesses, is the most common cause of this pink eye type. It could be caused by exposure to sneezing or coughing of an individual with a respiratory infection, and could likewise develop as the viral infection spreads throughout the body. 
  • Chemical or Irritant Conjunctivitis – Certain environmental factors are the main culprits of this pink eye type. These irritants include air pollution, car exhaust, smoke, hair spray, cleaning chemicals, makeup, soaps, and chlorine. 

Keep in mind that while viral and bacterial conjunctivitis is highly contagious, allergic conjunctivitis is not.  

Does My Toddler Need Medical Attention?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, you should get your toddler medical attention if he or she is displaying some or all of these symptoms: 

  • Eye pain
  • Severe eye redness
  • Light sensitivity or blurry eyesight that doesn’t improve even the eye is cleared of discharge 
  • Symptoms that worsen or do not get better, including conjunctivitis believed to be due to a bacterial infection that doesn’t improve even after antibiotic treatment

Take note that if your child has a compromised immune system due to an underlying health condition or medical treatments, get medical help as soon as possible. The same applies to newborns showing signs of pink eye.  

How Long Does Pink Eye Last in Little Children?

In most cases, pink eye should be healed in three to five days when treated, or in two weeks if not treated, as is the case with viral pink eye infections. 

Likewise, any symptom or infection that doesn’t clear up must be reexamined by a doctor. In rare and more serious cases, pink eye could result from measles, chickenpox, or herpes. 

If the cause is a herpes virus or measles, symptoms will also include skin blisters, and if the cause is measles, you will notice the symptoms of pink eye showing up around the time the measles rash develops. But if your doctor deems your child’s case is more serious than it appears, your doctor will have your child’s eye discharge tested. If the cause is a more severe infection, your child will have to take antiviral medicine.

Easy Tips for Preventing Pink Eye

Preventing irritant or allergic conjunctivitis is as easy as determining the allergen that’s triggering it so you can avoid or remove it from your environment. Preventing and reducing the risk of spreading infectious conjunctivitis, on the other hand, will require you and your family to take extra precautions such as the following: 

  • Make sure that everyone in your household washes their hands properly with warm water and soap for 20 seconds minimum. For smaller children, teach them to wash their hands while singing “Happy Birthday” twice over.
  • Refrain from touching or rubbing your eyes with your hands.
  • If someone in your home already has pink eye, change all contaminated pillowcases, washcloths, and towels every day, and avoid sharing them. Launder them in hot water. 
  • Use disinfectants for spraying or wiping down communal items such as doorknobs, faucets, digital devices, and remote controls among others. 
  • Change sheets and pillowcases regularly. 
  • Refrain from sharing personal care items or makeup used for the eyes. 
  • Clean and disinfect eyeglasses frequently. 

Additionally, it’s extremely vital to keep in mind that because you can’t possibly stop small children from rubbing or touching their eyes and then touching all sorts of things, one infected kid can easily start a pink eye epidemic at home or in school. 

If your wee one is infected, let him or her skip school until his or her symptoms have eased to avoid spreading the infection to others. 

How to Get Rid of Pink Eye: Home Cures

While seeking professional treatment for pink eye isn’t always necessary, certain times warrant a visit to the doctor. Furthermore, there’s just no substitute for getting regular eye examinations, particularly if you or your little one is experiencing atypical or persistent eye issues. 

Although treatment will be dependent on the exact cause of the pink eye infection, you can also try the following home remedies to help relieve your child’s symptoms: 

  • Eye Drops – Artificial tears, which are nonprescription lubricant drops, are typically utilized for alleviating eye redness, inflammation, and irritation. They can likewise soothe dryness due to chronic pink eye. If your child suffers from chronic pink eye because of allergies, you can apply antihistamine eye drops to ease his or her symptoms. 
  • Cold and Warm Compresses – The American Academy of Ophthalmology states that cold and hot compresses can help soothe discomfort from viral or allergic pink eye. Cold compresses could reduce inflammation and ease itchiness; while warm compresses could help get rid of the discharge. Refrain from using the compress on the other eye if only one of your child’s eyes has an infection. 


Pink eye is a very common infection that affects the eyes of kids and adults. It can be caused by allergies, irritants, viruses, or bacteria. In most instances, it is mild and won’t require professional treatment. 

On the other hand, more severe cases 8/might require prescription antiviral drugs or antibiotics. Practicing the prevention tips above can help prevent it from spreading. Pink eye commonly goes away within a week or two without intervention. 

But if your little one’s symptoms persist, your best recourse is to seek professional help. Your doctor will check your child and recommend the best treatment option. Lastly, any time you see something amiss in your child’s eyes, consult a doctor just to be on the safe side. 

Even if turns out to be nothing more than seasonal allergies, getting prompt treatment will help relieve your tot’s discomfort. And if it turns out to be pink eye, then you can take the necessary steps to treat it and prevent it from spreading. 


National Eye Institute 

American Academy of Opthalmology 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Mayo Clinic Foundation