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    Viral Eye Infections

    This article discusses the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of viral eye infections, or “pink eye” caused by a virus

    Updated at March 28th, 2024


    DisclaimerThis material is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it. It is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, nor does it replace the advice or counsel of a doctor or health care professional. Reference to a specific commercial product or service does not imply endorsement or recommendation of that product or service by CPCMG.

    What are viral eye infections?

    • Infections of the eye caused by viruses.  
    • It usually occurs as part of a cold.  

    What are the symptoms of viral eye infections?

    • The white part of the eyes looks very pink or red.  
    • Sometimes the eyelids can be puffy. 
    • The eyes can be watery. The drainage is usually clear.  
    • Your child say that their eyes hurt. Sometimes they might feel itchy.  
    • Your child might also have other cold symptoms like stuffy or runny nose, fever, and cough.  
    • Symptoms usually last for about 1 week.  

    How are viral eye infections diagnosed?

    • Your child’s provider can diagnose this condition after hearing about your child’s symptoms and performing a physical exam.  
    • If your child has other symptoms like fever or ear pain, or if they are very young – this will need to be an in-office visit.  

    How can I prevent viral eye infections?

    • Good handwashing is the best way to prevent spread.  
    • Teach your child not to touch their eyes. 
    • Avoid sharing washcloths and towels.  

    How is this treated? 

    • Clean the eyes:  
      • Use a clean warm wet washcloth or warm wet cotton balls.  
    • Artificial Tears: 
      • These drops can make the eyes feel better.  
      • They are available without a prescription.  
      • Be sure to only use eye drops that do not have any medications in them. 
      • Learn how to administer eye drops here.  
    • Because this is caused by a virus, antibiotic eye drops are not needed. 

    • Use a cool compress (like an ice-pack or washcloth) if your child is complaining of pain or discomfort.  
    • Contact lenses 
      • If your child wears contact lenses, they need to switch to using their glasses until this infection has cleared.  
      • If their contacts are disposable, they should throw them away and start with a new pair after their infection has cleared.  
      • If the contacts are not disposable, they should be disinfected before using again. 
    • Treat your child’s other cold symptoms.  

    When to call your child’s provider:

    • Your child has fever or ear pain with the eye drainage.  
    • Your child’s eyelids have become very swollen or red.  
    • Your child is having difficulty seeing, double vision, asymmetric or painful eye movements, or they tell you things look “funny” or “different”.  
    • Your child develops large amounts of yellow/white/green drainage from the eyes.  
    • Your child’s symptoms are not improving after 1 week. 
    • You have other questions, concerns or feel your child needs to be seen.  

    This publication was adapted from information from American Academy of Pediatrics patient education materials.  

    Reviewed by: AR D.O., TT D.O | 01/2024