Pinkeye (Conjunctivitis) in Babies and Newborns

If your baby’s eye is red, he might have an eye condition commonly known as pinkeye. You might have also heard it called conjunctivitis, which is the medical name for pinkeye. Although it can be uncomfortable for your baby, pinkeye can be treated and will go away within about 10 days. Read on to learn more about what causes pinkeye, what the symptoms are, how to treat it and help prevent its spread, and when to see your baby’s healthcare provider.

What Is Pinkeye (Conjunctivitis) and What Does It Look Like?

Pinkeye is one of the most common eye conditions affecting both adults and children. The condition is an inflammation of the thin tissue lining the inside of the eyelid (this is called the conjunctiva) and the white part of the eye. The inflammation causes the blood vessels in the eye to become more visible, which makes it look like the whites of the eye are red or pink — hence the name. In some ways, pinkeye is a little like the common cold. Just like a cold, pinkeye can spread easily between children if someone is infected, and pinkeye often doesn’t require treatment for the condition to resolve by itself. Pinkeye can be uncomfortable for your baby but it typically won’t affect your baby’s eyesight.

Conjunctivitis Symptoms

Symptoms depend on what has actually caused the pinkeye. Based on the underlying cause, the signs of pinkeye typically include:

  • Viral infection

  • A pink, swollen, watery eye

  • Sensitivity to light

  • Typically only one eye is affected

  • Bacterial infection

  • Red or pink, itchy, painful eye(s)

  • Green or yellow discharge from the eye

  • Crusting on the eye and eyelashes after waking up

  • Can affect just one or both eyes

  • Allergic reaction

  • Itchy, red eye

  • Excessive tearin

  • Usually affects both eye

  • Chemical irritation

  • Red, watery eyes

What Causes Pinkeye and How Is It Diagnosed?

Pinkeye Causes

It can be hard to pinpoint the exact cause of pinkeye in babies; however, the main causes are typically

  • viruses

  • bacteria

  • allergens, such as dust mites or pet dander

  • chemical irritants such as polluted air or chlorinated swimming pool water

  • for newborns, a blocked tear duct.

Tell your baby’s healthcare provider if your little one has had contact with someone who has viral or bacterial conjunctivitis, or if you think there may be something that’s irritated his eyes.

Pinkeye Diagnosis

To diagnose pinkeye, your baby’s healthcare provider will likely check your baby’s eyes for redness and discharge. He may even check your baby’s ears for signs of infection since the same bacteria that causes pinkeye can also cause ear infections.

Pinkeye Treatment

Eye infections typically last anywhere between 7 and 10 days. If your baby’s pinkeye gets worse or doesn’t improve after about a week, take her to see your healthcare provider. If your baby’s provider determines that a bacterial infection has caused the pinkeye, he will likely prescribe antibiotic eye drops or an ointment. If a virus is behind the condition, your baby’s healthcare provider can give you advice on how to help soothe the symptoms while the viral infection lasts. If the pinkeye is a result of allergies, your doctor may prescribe eye drops to treat the symptoms. There are also some home remedies you might like to try to give your little one some relief. Use a cool or warm washcloth as a compress to soothe her eye. Clean any crust or discharge with gauze or a cotton ball dipped in warm water.

When Should You Take Your Baby to the Healthcare Provider?

If your baby has any of the following, take your baby to your provider right away:

  • Eye pain

  • Blurred vision

  • Sensitivity to light

  • Intense eye redness, swelling, and tenderness

  • Fever

  • A weakened immune system

  • A pre-existing eye condition.

Conjunctivitis in Newborns

Shortly after birth, newborns are treated with antibiotic ointment or drops. This is to prevent infections that may arise from exposure to viruses or bacteria during pregnancy or during the trip down the birth canal. If your newborn does develop pinkeye, you should see your healthcare provider as soon as possible to prevent complications. It could be the result of an infection, irritation, or even a blocked tear duct.

Is Pinkeye Contagious and How Long Does It Last?

Viral and bacterial pinkeye are both very contagious, spreading easily from person to person. Viral pinkeye is contagious before symptoms appear and can remain contagious as long as symptoms last. Bacterial pinkeye is contagious from when symptoms first appear until there’s discharge from the eye or until 24 hours after antibiotic treatment has started.

How to Prevent Pinkeye

Make sure that you and everyone in your home frequently washes their hands with soap and warm water, especially after providing any at-home treatment to your baby. Be sure to wash your baby's hands, too. It’s also a good idea to launder anything (like washcloths, pillows, or towels) that was used by your baby separately from the rest of the household laundry to prevent the infection from spreading. If your baby’s pinkeye was caused by an allergic reaction or irritation, these steps might help prevent it from reoccurring:

  • Dust and vacuum frequently

  • Close doors and windows when pollen is at its heaviest

  • Keep scented household cleaners or irritating chemical cleaners to a minimum

  • Avoid exposing your child to secondhand smoke

  • Avoid chlorinated swimming pools.


Depending on the cause, signs of pinkeye can include

  • a pink or red, swollen, watery eye
  • sensitivity to light
  • an itchy, painful eye
  • green or yellow discharge from the eye
  • crusting on the eye and eyelashes
  • excessive tearing.

It may be upsetting to see your beautiful baby with a bright pink or red eye infection, but just like many childhood illnesses, pinkeye tends to go away with time or with some treatment from your baby’s healthcare provider. With your baby on the road to recovery, why not take a moment to check out the Pampers Rewards app — a great way to pile up the points and earn rewards for all your diaper purchases.

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