Symptoms of conjunctivitis in new-borns and children

Conjunctivitis symptoms in new-borns (also often called pink eye) can be serious and usually require treatment. In such young patients, conjunctivitis is typically caused by some kind of irritation, infection or a blocked tear duct. When an infection is the route cause, neonatal conjunctivitis should be taken particularly seriously.

New-borns with conjunctivitis will start to develop discharge from the eyes any time from 1 day to 2 weeks after birth. The eyelids become red, puffy and tender. Often the cause of conjunctivitis in new-borns is hard to determine because the symptoms are generally the same regardless of what is causing them.

Conjunctivitis in new-borns may occur due to irritation produced by the topical antimicrobials given at birth. It may also be because an infection has passed from mother to baby, which is either viral or bacterial in nature. The mother herself may or may not already show symptoms.

Key symptoms

The main symptoms of conjunctivitis in new-borns include:

  • Sticky eyes with yellow, green or clear discharge
  • Whites of the eyes that are pink or red
  • Swelling of the inner and/or outer eyelids
  • Puffiness around the eyes

Symptoms in older children

Toddlers and older children will display many similar symptoms as new-borns, however flu-like symptoms including a cough, sore through or fever may also be present. Additionally, they might complain of blurry eyesight, eyes watering more than usual, or eyes which feel sore, itchy or gritty.

Constant rubbing of the eyes and sensitivity to light are also common symptoms.

It should be made clear to the parents or caregivers of the child that conjunctivitis can be extremely contagious so steps should be taken to prevent its spread to other family members. This includes regular hand washing and not sharing towels or bedding.

Boost your skills in diagnosing and treating conjunctivitis in both newborns and children

If you’re a nurse or other healthcare professional and wish to refresh your skills around common conditions in children, then our CPD course Paediatric minor illness may well prove useful.

This course offers the opportunity to enhance confidence around various types of illness in children, including conjunctivitis. Highly interactive and flexibly delivered, the course is offered via Zoom which makes it ideal during COVID-19 restrictions.

The course runs over 3 consecutive days and is worth 21 hours of CPD. As it is one of our most popular programmes it is likely to fill up quickly. Therefore we recommend getting signed up early where possible.

Jacques Bedard