The term “pink eye” is often overused and misinterpreted. The term commonly describes an eye infection, primarily conjunctivitis. Conjunctivitis literally means "inflammation of the conjunctiva," which is the white part of the eye. Conjunctivitis can develop from various medical issues, such as allergies, viral or bacterial infections, injuries, and several other conditions.
Consult an eye doctor whenever an eye issue arises, such as redness, blurred vision or pain. Infants in particular should be monitored closely by a doctor when an eye problem occurs.
Although some people panic when hearing the term “pink eye,” the condition is usually just mild conjunctival inflammation caused by a virus, such as the common cold. Like the common cold, it spreads quite easily from one individual to another, especially with children in close proximity to each other, as they are in day care or school. Within a week or so, the body fights the viral infection and the symptoms can sometimes resolve without treatment, just like cold symptoms. Consult an eye doctor to ensure that you have a proper diagnosis.
Many newborns have not yet fully developed their lacrimal drainage system, the area by the nose where tears drain. Parents often notice mild crusting or discharge in the corner of the infant’s eye, by the nose. It can often take up to six months or longer for the child’s system to fully develop. Doctors often advise parents to simply wipe the area clean of debris with a warm washcloth. Massage is not necessarily recommended with newborns because their lacrimal system is not blocked but developing, although blockage can occur also. Treatments are available for these lacrimal issues, but most likely the doctor will simply monitor the situation, since the condition typically resolves without treatment as long as no infection is present.
Eczema describes a rash of the skin and cool compresses often alleviate the swelling and inflammation associated with eczema. Applying cool compresses to the closed eyelids, without rubbing, can reduce inflammation, swelling or irritation of the eyelids, specifically in cases of allergic reactions and viral conjunctivitis.
In cases of blocked meibomian or tear glands, which can lead to inflammation, doctors will often recommend that parents use warm compresses and massage. Meibomian glands are the oil glands along the eyelid margin near the eyelashes that excrete the tears, oils and nutrients that moisten and protect the eye's surface.
Use caution when applying over-the-counter ointments or creams around an infant’s eyes. Your doctor can recommend a lotion that is safe for use on infants with dry or irritated skin, including the face, but you should be cautious not to get it into the eye. If an ointment is necessary on an area such as the eyelid margin, near the lashes and the eye itself, then it would be best to consult an eye doctor who can prescribe an ophthalmic ointment for the infant.