Be on the Lookout for Patients With Acute Conjunctivitis

Be prepared to help manage pink eye in kids and adults.

Acute conjunctivitis, or “pink eye,” is an inflammation of the conjunctiva of the eye...causing redness and eyelid swelling.

Viruses are the most common cause in adults and bacteria are the most common cause in kids...but conjunctivitis can also have noninfectious causes, such as allergies.

Assess symptoms to determine the cause and guide treatment.

Table showing Symptoms and First line Treatment of Conjunctivitis based on the type.  The types are: Viral, Bacterial, and Allergic.

Refer to a prescriber for any red flag symptoms, such as vision changes, severe light sensitivity, or moderate to severe eye pain.

Also refer patients with a rash or vesicles around the eye or on the eyelid, which may indicate a herpes or shingles infection.

Counsel patients with contact lenses to remove them immediately and refer them to their prescriber to rule out a more serious cause, such as a corneal ulcer related to using contact lenses.

For symptom management, recommend warm compresses to soften crusts in the morning...or cool compresses to relieve swelling or itchiness.

Suggest a lubricating eye drop (Soothe, etc) for symptom relief.

For suspected viral or bacterial causes, counsel patients to avoid eye-hand contact...wash hands regularly...and follow local school and day care guidelines on staying home while contagious.

Remind patients with infectious causes to not share bedding or towels and to throw out any eye makeup that they’ve recently used.

Follow up in 2 to 3 days and refer if symptoms haven’t improved.

Share our resource, The Ins and Outs of Eye and Ear Meds, with your techs to prevent mix-ups or misuse.

Key References

  • Mahoney MJ, Bekibele R, Notermann SL, et al. Pediatric Conjunctivitis:  A Review of Clinical Manifestations, Diagnosis and Management. Children (Basel). 2023 Apr 29;10(5):808.
  • Yeu E, Hauswirth. A Review of the Differentia Diagnosis of Acute Infectious Conjunctivitis: Implications for Treatment and Management. Clin Ophthalmol. 2020 Mar 12:14:805-813.
  • Azari AA, Barney NP. Conjunctivitis: A Systematic Review of Diagnosis and Treatment. JAMA. 2013 Oct 23;310(16):1721-9.
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