When kids head to class this fall, they’ll likely be exposed to more than just the A-B-Cs and 1-2-3s. Unfortunately, schools tend to be a breeding ground for germs and bacteria – including the dreaded pink eye. Are you prepared for when your child catches it this back-to-school season? If you’re like 70 per cent of Canadian parents, then you’re not – according to a recent poll conducted by Décima Research.

Irritation from pink eye is felt beyond its itchiness and discomfort. Bouts of pink eye mean children have to stay home from school – this means that you, your partner, or a babysitter needs to stay home too. That’s no way to start off the school year!So, what can parents do to stop pink eye before it finds its way home?
Keep reading to find out about a few easy solutions!Eyes wide open

Pink eye – or conjunctivitis – is one of the most common eye infections in children. In fact, the Décima poll revealed that 37 per cent of Canadian parents say their child has suffered from pink eye at least once. Fairly easy to recognize, pink eye causes the white part of the eye and the inside of the eyelid to become red, itchy, watery, and produce discharge.

Pink eye itself is actually a symptom of an underlying condition, and not a condition in and of itself. “The three main causes of pink eye are bacterial infections, viral infections and allergies,” says Dr. Iris Greenwald, a family doctor and mother of three.

“The first step in treating your child’s pink eye is to know what’s causing it,” says Greenwald. “Bacterial conjunctivitis can be identified by the following symptoms: itchiness, overall redness, a thick yellow/white discharge, and a sensation that something is in the eye yet cannot be removed. Parents may find that their children’s eyelids stick together after sleeping. When most people say ‘pink eye,’ they are actually talking about bacterial conjunctivitis.”

A mucous-like discharge also tends to occur with viral pink eye, says Dr. Greenwald. But this discharge tends to be more watery, and is usually accompanied by other symptoms, such as a sore throat or nasal congestion.

Finally, pink eye brought on by allergies appears along with other symptoms, such as itchy eyes and runny nose.

Kids share pink eye more easily than their toys!Contrary to popular belief, direct hand-to-hand contact isn’t the only way to spread bacterial pink eye. In fact, a child can catch pink eye indirectly too, simply by handling the same object as a child who’s already infected or by being exposed to their coughing and sneezing.

Kathleen, mother of seven-year-old veteran pink eye sufferer Cassie, knows first-hand the benefits of being prepared. “I alwayskeep a bottle of eye drops in my bag just in case, so when I see Cassie start to rub her red, itchy eyes and notice a yellow/white discharge, I can put the drops in right away.”

Keep it to yourself!Dr. Greenwald recommends some important steps for parents to treat the symptoms of bacterial pink eye. “Antibiotic eye drops are important to have on hand when pink eye strikes. Not only do they help relieve the uncomfortable symptoms, the sooner you administer the drops, the faster your child can start to heal and get back to school.”

To ensure the infection is completely eliminated, apply one or two drops, four times a day for a full seven to 10 days. It is important to continue to treat the area for the fully recommended duration, even if symptoms have subsided, to discourage a recurrence of the same infection.

Dr. Greenwald suggests using a warm compress for pink eye resulting from a bacterial or viral infection and a cold compress when it’s caused by allergies.

Perhaps even more daunting than pink eye is the tedious task of administering eye drops. “As a doctor and mom, I’ve dealt with my share of squirmy children, and inserting eye drops can be tricky,” says Dr. Greenwald. “The trick is to place the drops in the corner of the child’s eye as they look the other way, so when they close their eyes and re-open them the drops should comfortably spread throughout the eyes.”

Keep away the pink!Pink eye can be pesky and prevention is much easier thantreatment. Here are some tips Dr. Greenwald recommends:• Get your kids into the habit of washing their hands regularly with soap and hot water or use an antibacterial sanitizing hand gel like Purell when soap and water are not available• Discourage children from rubbing or touching their eyes• Don’t let your child share towels, washcloths, or pillowcases with anyone else• Keep a bottle of over-the-counter antibiotic eye drops in your first aid kit to use at the first sign of bacterial pink eye• Don’t use the eye drop bottle with more than one child – this increases the risk of cross-contamination• If you are unsure what’s causing your child’s pink eye or if symptoms persist, ask your doctor for a proper diagnosis.