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Common Eye Infections In Kids: Symptoms, Causes And Treatments

Cataracts, conjunctivitis, stye - we all have heard of these ‘terms’, perse. What are they? What do they mean? These are examples of some of the most common eye infections that infect children and adults alike.  

Did You Know: Soon after birth, all children are treated with eye-drops in the delivery room.

During the birthing process, the child has to pass through the birth canal. The birth canal can be ridden with bacteria which can infect your child’s eye and give rise to some serious infections. Hence, eye infection treatment protocol dictate antibiotic eye drops to be administered immediately-regardless of the actual presence of an infection.

It can be hard for parents to keep track of all baby problems and that’s understandable. The objective of this article is to help all the parents out there by eliminating the confusion that surrounds an eye infection.

Table Of Contents

1. How do children catch eye infections?

2. The different kinds of common eye infections that infect children

2.1 Conjunctivitis

2.2 Cataracts

2.3 Blocked Tear Duct

2.4 Stye

2.5 Chalazion

2.6 Blepharitis

2.7 Periorbital Cellulitis

1. How do children catch eye infections?

Eye infections occur when bacteria infects the eye region or a part of the eye. How children catch eye infections depends upon the infection caught itself. For example: Conjunctivitis is a highly contagious infection. Hence, children could easily catch this infection in school or while playing in the park.

Sometime eye infections can be part of a more complex infection. For example: Sufferers of tuberculosis often show symptoms of conjunctivitis. A scratch in the cornea by a foreign body is also another common cause of eye infections in children.

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2. The different kinds of common eye infections that infect children

Nobody is immune to eye infections- not even children. Over the course of their childhood, it’s highly likely that at least once they will come into contact with an eye infection. Parents, in such times it’s important that you keep your cool and do not panic. Panic can make everything worse. The rest of this article is dedicated to the different types of common eye infections that trouble children. We will be covering- Cataracts, Conjunctivitis (Allergic conjunctivitis included), Blocked Tear Ducts and Stick Eye in detail. From causes to symptoms to treatment- this will be your common eye infection bible.

2.1 Conjunctivitis

What is conjunctivitis? What are the causes of conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis is the most common eye infection that ails children and adults alike. It turns your eye pink and hence, it’s popularly called ‘pinkeye’. Simply put, pinkeye is an inflammation of the white portion of the eyes. It looks extremely bad and painful however, it’s not that all that serious. It’s only very, very irritating to deal with because your eye constantly feels weird and itchy.

Believe it or not; pinkeye can be caused by many different types of bacteria and viruses. The same bacteria that’s responsible for an ear infection, cold and sore throat can be responsible for conjunctivitis. What’s even surprising is that one of the other causes of conjunctivitis is spread through STD’s. Parents can ignore the latter cause as it has nothing to do with children. That’s the case with infectious pinkeye.

There are two other kinds of noninfectious conjunctivitis: allergic conjunctivitis and irritant conjunctivitis.

Allergic conjunctivitis is caused by an allergic reaction to something in particular. The ‘trigger’ could be anything from hay to grass. Allergic conjunctivitis will be spoken about in more detail below. Similar to allergic conjunctivitis is irritant conjunctivitis which is caused by things that irritate the eye. For example: chlorine water, air pollution etc.

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Symptoms of ‘Pinkeye’

 - Eye becomes uncharacteristically pink or red

 - Feeling of discomfort in the eye

 - Irritating feeling of ‘sand’ in the eye

 - Possible discharge from the eye

 - Swelling of the eye

 - Eye pain

Remember; pinkeye can affect one or both of the eyelids- there’s no fixed rule as such.

Treatment for ‘Pinkeye’

If the cause of the pinkeye is a virus, it will then go away automatically and there’s no eye infection treatment as such that needs to be done. However, if the cause is a bacteria, the doctor will then prescribe you with anti-biotic eye drops to get rid of the bacteria quickly.

Children can sometimes be fussy when it comes to eye drops. If your child is being a nuisance, ask the doctor to prescribe you with an eye ointment instead. Don’t worry, eye ointments are equally effective!

Allergic Conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis is a relatively common eye infection. It’s triggered by certain ‘trigger elements’. These elements could be grass, animal fur, hay etc. One of the biggest symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis is that it’s characterised by itchiness and watery eyes. Treatment for allergic conjunctivitis is also different. Instead of antibiotic eyedrops, the patient will have to use anti-allergic eye drops.4

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2.2 Cataracts


What is ‘a cataract’? What causes cataracts in children?

A cataract is basically a cloudy area that’s formed around the eyes of a person. Generally, older people suffer from cataracts and honestly, it’s quite a common problem with the senior population. The infection is characterised by blurriness which inhibits vision to a great extent- the size of the cataract determines the extent of the blurriness.

The cause of cataracts in children can be divided into four primary reasons:

Underdevelopment of the child’s lens during pregnancy

Genetics- passed on from the mother or father

Other medical complications like Down Syndrome

Problems that creep up after birth such as: diabetes, steroids, eye injury, radiation exposure and eye infection problems

Symptoms of Cataracts

It’s important to find the cataracts as soon as possible. The quicker you find it, the better the prospects for eyesight long-term. The symptoms of cataracts include:

White spot inside the pupil

Vision problems

Misaligned eyes

Treatment for Cataracts

Surgery is the only treatment option here. However, if the cataract is too small and it doesn’t distort or affect your child’s vision- no surgery is required.

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2.3 Blocked Tear Duct


What is a blocked tear duct? What causes a blocked tear duct in children?

Honestly, it’s self-explanatory. A blocked tear duct infection is one which arises when the tear duct of a child is blocked. It’s a very common eye infection in babies. The tear duct gets blocked because the membrane that covers it doesn’t open properly. Hence, the duct gets blocked. Other causes include:

 - Narrow tear duct system

 - Eye infection

 - Unnatural bone alignment that blocks the tear duct

When a newborn has a blocked tear duct, his/her eyes can tend to stick together. This situation is called newborn sticky eye. We will speak about it separately in detail below.

Symptoms of a Blocked Tear Duct

 - Inability to vent the tears

 - Swollen eyelids (mild)

 - Red eyelids

 - Sticking together of the eyelids

 - A greenish-yellow discharge

 - Treatment for a Blocked Tear Duct

Good news: blocked tear ducts barely require any treatment. In fact, in most cases the tear ducts open on their own without causing any extra eye pain. However, if you want to quicken the process, there are two things that you can do to treat a blocked tear duct:

 - Regular usage of warm compresses

 - Regular ‘tear duct massages’

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Newborn Sticky Eye

One of the impacts of a blocked tear duct is that it results in sticky eyes. Newborn sticky eye is not really an infection as such. It’s a condition in which a sticky substance is left near the corners of the eyes.

The cause of newborn sticky eye is a blocked tear duct. When the tear ducts get blocked, the eyes become extremely dry which result in the accumulation of a sticky substance.

Treating sticky eyes is quite easy. If you baby has sticky eyes, you can wipe of the sticky residue using sterilized water and cotton. It’s as simple as that. However, there are certain symptoms in relation to newborn sticky eye that dictate a visit to the doctor. These symptoms are:

 - When the volume of the discharge increases significantly

 - When the discharge acquires a yellowish-green colour

 - When the eyes becomes red

 - When swelling of the eye is visible

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2.4 Stye

What is a stye? How is it caused?

In simple words, a stye is a small bump that’s formed in and around the eyelids. It’s a localized infection that’s mostly caused by some bacteria. However, the real cause of a stye is a blocked gland. The different situations in which the glands around the eye can get blocked are:

 - Blockage of the duct by scar tissue

 - Blockage of the duct by foreign substances like makeup etc.

 - Thickening of the liquid produced by the gland itself that slows down its movement resulting in partial blockage of the gland.

Symptoms of a stye

Uncomfortable pinching feeling in the eye as though there’s a foreign body present in it

 - Pressurised eyes

 - Eye pain or pain in the area surrounding the bump

 - Possibility of blurred vision (when the pus of the stye spreads around the eye’s surface)

 - Swelling of the eyelids

Treatment for a stye

The treatment for a stye is pretty simple and straightforward. Without eye infection treatment perse, the infection leaves automatically after a few weeks. However, most people resort to home remedial measures to quicken the process. Additionally, some people choose to resort to medicine and use antibiotic eye drops to fight the bacteria. But that’s not really required. Home remedies generally do the trick!

An example of a great home remedy: cover the stye with a warm compress for 10-15 minutes, four-times a day. It works wonders!

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2.5 Chalazion


What is a chalazion? How is it caused?

A chalazion is a small painless bump that occurs on your eyelid. It starts as a poppy seed and can grow as big as a pea. If there are many of them, it is referred to as chalazia (plural). It may appear on the outer or inner part of the eyelid. It may look like sty but they are usually larger and don’t hurt. Chalazion is caused due to the inflammation of blocked oil glands (meibomian glands) in the eyelid.

Symptoms of chalazion

Chalazion is a painless cyst or lump on the upper or lower eyelid. It may occur on one of the eyelids or even on both eyes at the same time. Symptoms include:

 - Painless bump on the eye

 - Blurry vision (if the bump is large)

 - Teary eyes (if the bump is large)

 - Pressure on the eyeball

Generally, chalzions are not contagious or painful. However, if there is an infection, your baby could be in pain.

Treatment for chalazion

Some chalazia disappear by itself without treatment. But the treatment which could help your baby to get rid of chalazion quickly is warm compress. The oil which is blocking the duct could be softened and drained by a warm compress. Alike sty, don’t try popping chalazion. Antibiotic drops or ointments could be prescribed to prevent infection. If the lump doesn’t disappear even after warm compress, an injection or a surgical procedure might help.

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2.6 Blepharitis

What is Blepharitis? How is it caused?

Blepharitis is when there is an inflammation in the eyelids. It affects the area where the eyelashes start to grow and can affect both the eyes. Blepharitis is usually happens due clogged oil glands close to the base of the eyelashes. This can lead to bacterial infections which then cause this inflammation in the eyelids. There are several health conditions that can result in blepharitis.

Symptoms of Blepharitis

 - Watery and red irritated eye,

 - Can cause chalazion, stye and conjunctivitis.

 - Eye lashes may fall off (if another infection develops)

Though it can disappear on its own, it might come back and be chronic. Chronic blepharitis will be very difficult to treat.

Treatment for Blepharitis

Warm compress along with antibiotic drops and ointments helps in treating Blepharitis. Also, Saline solutions and baby shampoos aids in clearing the baby’s eyes. If your baby has blepharitis, rush to the doctor immediately. It is better to cure it before it becomes chronic.

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2.7 Periorbital Cellulitis

What is Periorbital Cellulitis? How is it caused?

This is an infection that affects the eyelids or the skin around the eyelids. Children under 2 years of age are more likely to get this eye infection. It occurs when a certain type of bacteria infects the soft, delicate skin around the eyes. It can get into your skin through a cut or an infection in the sinuses.

Symptoms of Periorbital Cellulitis

 - Red and swollen eyes

 - A cut/scratch near the eye

 - Skin feels tender

 - Skin feels a bit tough

 - Pink fever

 - Runny nose

 This infection generally affects only one eye.

Treatment for Periorbital Cellulitis

Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics if you or your little one have Periorbital Cellulitis. Antibiotic ointments or an injection will reduce the infection. Your doctor will prescribe one based on the severity of the infection. It usually goes away within 2 days.

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