All you should know about red eye in children

Written by: Dr Annegret Dahlmann-Noor
Published: | Updated: 13/04/2023
Edited by: Conor Lynch

In our latest article, highly esteemed and experienced consultant ophthalmologist, Dr Annegret Dahlmann-Noor, outlines the main causes of red eye in children, and explains what parents can do to help their child should they contract red eye.

What are the main causes of red eye?

Red eyes are caused by an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the transparent layer which covers the white part of the eyeball and the inside of the eyelids. Inflammation of the conjunctiva is called conjunctivitis.


What are the two main types of conjunctivitis and how contagious are each?

There are two main types of conjunctivitis: infectious and allergic. Less common is inflammation of the conjunctiva caused by blepharitis or chemical injuries.

Viral conjunctivitis is most commonly seen in children who have an infection of the upper airways – a cold. The eyes become very red and there may be some watery discharge, but this does not cause the child any distress. They tend to be somewhat miserable because of their cold – they have a temperature, the nose is blocked, and they often feel very tired. Viral conjunctivitis is very contagious and is spread via the fingers, so children cannot attend nursery or school whilst they have red eyes.

In bacterial conjunctivitis, there is often a sticky yellowish/greenish discharge, like pus, as well as the eyes becoming red. Sometimes, the child is not able to open the eyes when waking up, as the eyelids are stuck together. The hallmark of allergic conjunctivitis is itching, and the child constantly rubs the eyes.


What can I do to help my child?

Simple self-care measures can help your child with conjunctivitis. With viral conjunctivitis, cold lid compresses and artificial tear eyedrops from the local chemist or optometrist can bring some relief. Meticulous hygiene is crucial to prevent viral conjunctivitis from spreading to other family members, as well as frequent hand washing, using separate towels and so on.


Bacterial conjunctivitis requires patient and repeated cleaning of the eyelids, to remove the sticky discharge. Both viral and bacterial conjunctivitis resolve on their own and therefore do not require antibiotic eyedrops. The exception is conjunctivitis in newborn babies, and during the first month of life. If your newborn has red eyes and a sticky discharge, a doctor must check them as quickly as possible.


When should I take my child to see an ophthalmologist?

If your child becomes sensitive to light, the cornea (the clear window at the front of the eye) may have become involved in the inflammation. This may benefit from treatment. An eye doctor specialising in children’s eye condition is the most appropriate health professional to carry out a full assessment of your child’s eye health.


Dr Annegret Dahlmann-Noor is a highly experienced and skilled consultant ophthalmologist who specialises in red eye in children. Visit her Top Doctors profile today to book a consultation with her.

By Dr Annegret Dahlmann-Noor

Dr Annegret Dahlmann-Noor is the director of the children's eye service at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, the largest children's eye care facility in the Western World. She is also Honorary Clinical Associate Professor at the prestigious University College London, one of the top universities worldwide.

After receiving her medical training in France and Germany, Dr Dahlmann-Noor specialised as an ophthalmologist, working across a number of leading hospitals in the United Kingdom. 

Dr Dahlmann-Noor specialises in eye problems in children, as well as amblyopia, blepharitis and eye surface inflammation in adults. Her current research focuses on new treatments for lazy eye and shortsightedness (myopia). Dr Dahlmann-Noor devotes much of her time to clinical research, and has been extensively published in peer-reviewed medical journals. 

Additionally, Dr Dahlmann-Noor is a member of a number of renowned medical bodies, including the Royal College of Ophthalmologists and the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh. 

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