Conjunctivitis or Pink Eye

Conjunctivitis is a common eye infection, especially among children. It is an inflammation (swelling and redness) of the conjunctiva, which is the clear membrane that covers the white part of the eye and the inside of the eyelids. Sometimes conjunctivitis is called ‘pink eye’ because the eye looks pink or red. 


There are two types of Conjunctivitis, but only one is highly contagious. A person with conjunctivitis will remain infectious as long as there is a discharge from their eye. 


Your child could develop infectious conjunctivitis if they encounter:

  • the discharge from the eyes, nose, or throat of an infected person through touch, coughing or sneezing.
  • contaminated fingers or objects
  • contaminated water or contaminated towels when swimming.

Signs and symptoms of conjunctivitis

Symptoms usually develop within 24 to 72 hours of becoming infected and can last from two days to three weeks.


If your child has conjunctivitis, they may have:

  • a red or pink eye (or both eyes)
  • redness behind the eyelid
  • swelling of the eyelids, making them appear puffy
  • excessive tears
  • a yellow-green discharge from the eye which dries when your child sleeps, causing crusting around the eyelids
  • a dislike of bright lights (photophobia)
  • a gritty feeling (like there is sand in the eye)
  • itchiness of the eyes and eye rubbing.

What can you do at home?

If the symptoms are mild, gentle cleaning of the eyes with cotton balls soaked in warm water may help your child feel better.

  • Clean in one direction only, outwards from the inside (nose side) of the eye. This prevents the other eye becoming infected if only one eye is affected.
  • Discard the cotton ball each time to prevent recontamination.

However, if symptoms are not getting better after two days or display any of the following, please see your GP or local Chemist for treatment.:

  • severe pain
  • problems with their vision/eyesight
  • increased swelling, redness, and tenderness in the eyelids and around the eyes
  • is generally unwell and has a fever.

Can a student attend school when they have signs of conjunctivitis?

Students cannot attend school until the discharge from their eyes has ceased.

For more information, please refer to the Kids fact sheet from the Royal Children's Hospital Conjunctivitis fact Sheet