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  • Writer's pictureAtanas Bogoev M.D. and Maria Cholakova

Most Common Eye Infections in Children

As you watch your little ones grow and discover the world, keep an eye out for potential eye infections in children along the way. From curious fingers to playful romps in the great outdoors, the little adventurers are bound to encounter a few eye-related mishaps.


Here we talk about the most common eye infections that children are susceptible to. Learn how and why so many kids tend to get these infections and how to recognize the warning signs.


6 Prevalent Eye Infections in Children


1. Bacterial Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)


Conjunctivitis is conjunctiva inflammation by bacteria or irritants.


Children are prone to pink eye due to close contact in school or daycare settings. They can contract pink eye through direct contact with infected individuals or contaminated objects.


Pink eye is not vision-threatening but it is highly contagious.


The symptoms of bacterial conjunctivitis include:


  • Redness in the white of the eye or inner eyelid

  • Watery or thick discharge from the eye (yellow or greenish color)

  • Eye itchiness

  • Eye irritation

  • Crusting of the eyelids or lashes (especially in the morning)


Frequent handwashing and avoiding touching the eyes can prevent its spread. Treatment depends on the cause and may include antibiotics.


conjunctivitis

2. Stye (Hordeolum)


Styes are painful, red lump formations on the eyelid. Their trigger is a bacterial infection of an oil gland.


Children often get styes due to poor hand hygiene or rubbing their eyes with dirty hands. They tend to play outside, explore the world, and touch everything they see, so if they forget to wash their hands and touch their face, they could get this type of eye infection.


A stye, or hordeolum, can be uncomfortable but it's usually harmless.


As common eye infections in children, styes exhibit the following symptoms:


  • Painful, red lump on the eyelid

  • Swelling

  • Tenderness

  • Possible discharge of pus


Warm compresses and good hygiene ease eye discomfort and promote healing. Yet, if the stye persists or worsens, medical attention may be necessary to prevent complications.


3. Bacterial Keratitis


Bacterial keratitis is an infection of the cornea usually caused by bacteria.


Children may get it from rubbing their eyes with dirty hands or swimming in contaminated water.


Children with a history of ocular injury, immune system disorders, or those who engage in swimming or playing in dusty environments are more susceptible to infection.


The bacterial keratitis eye infection in children causes:


  • Eye pain

  • Redness

  • Sensitivity to light (photophobia)

  • Blurry vision

  • Intense tearing

  • Discharge from the eye


If you notice these symptoms, take the child to an eye doctor. Prompt treatment can prevent vision loss and keratitis complications.


4. Viral Keratitis


This type of children's eye infection is similar to bacterial keratitis but caused by viruses.


Viral infections are common among children due to exposure to viruses in school or daycare.


Viral keratitis in children often results from herpes simplex or varicella-zoster, through exposure to infected respiratory secretions or direct contact with the eye.


Kids with weakened immune systems, those with previous ocular surgeries, or those with eczema are more prone to viral keratitis.


The telling signs of viral keratitis infection in children are:


  • Eye pain

  • Redness

  • Watery discharge

  • Sensitivity to light (photophobia)

  • Blurred vision


If your child exhibits these signs and is in the risk groups or recently had contact with a sick individual, take them for an eye exam.



5. Periorbital Cellulitis


Periorbital cellulitis is a bacterial eye infection of the tissues around the eye.


The inflammation may occur after an upper respiratory infection or an insect bite. It often arises from a bacterial infection spreading from nearby structures such as the sinuses or skin.


Children are susceptible to periorbital cellulitis due to their developing immune systems. Those with weak immune systems or a history of trauma to the eye/face are at greater risk.


The symptoms of this eye infection in children are:


  • Swelling and redness around the eye

  • Pain or tenderness

  • Fever

  • Difficulty moving the eye

  • Possible discharge from the eye


Periorbital cellulitis in children can be serious if left untreated. Prompt medical care can prevent the infection from spreading to the eye socket (orbital cellulitis), potentially causing vision loss.


6. Fungal Keratitis


Fungal cornea eye infections in children are rare. However, they can occur due to fungal spores entering the eye through trauma, contact lens use, or exposure to dirty environments.


Your child may be vulnerable to a fungal eye infection if they actively engage in outdoor activities or don't maintain proper contact lens hygiene. Children who live in humid climates are at higher risk.


The signs your child may have fungal keratitis are as follows:


  • Eye pain

  • Redness

  • Sensitivity to light

  • Blurred vision

  • Watery discharge


Fungal keratitis in children can pose a threat to vision. That's why you need to act fast if you notice these eye infection symptoms.


Common Eye Conditions That Mimic Infection in Children


Blocked Tear Ducts (Dacryostenosis)


Blocked tear ducts in infants are quite common. While dacryostenosis is not an infection by itself, it can cause problematic eye discharge and infection.


Most commonly, this happens due to the narrowness of the ducts in newborns. In toddlers and older children injury to the eye area can cause damage to the tear ducts, leading to blockages, too. If the condition persists it can cause acute or chronic conjunctivitis.


Congenital dacryostenosis occurs when the tear duct fails to open properly during fetal development. It can happen due to a partial or complete tear duct obstruction. Premature infants are at higher risk, since they may have underdeveloped tear ducts.


Babies with Down syndrome or facial abnormalities are also prone to complications. Conditions like sarcoidosis or Wegener's granulomatosis, which involve inflammation of the tear ducts or surrounding tissues, can lead to blockages as well.


The symptoms of blocked tear ducts are:


  • Excessive tearing

  • Discharge from the eye (especially when applying pressure to the tear duct)

  • Eyelids crusting


Consult a pediatric ophthalmologist for the right course of treatment or surgical procedure.



Chalazion


Chalazion is a painless lump on the eyelid caused by the blockage of an oil gland.


Children can get chalazia due to poor eyelid hygiene or rubbing their eyes excessively. Those with blepharitis or acne rosacea are at higher risk of getting these types of lumps.


Chalazion is not considered dangerous for the little ones but may cause discomfort and eye irritation. The signs to look out for include:


  • Painless swelling on the eyelid

  • Tenderness

  • Redness

  • Blurred or decreased vision (if the chalazion is large and presses on the eye)


While typically not harmful, medical attention may be necessary if the chalazion becomes large, painful, or affects vision.


Allergic Conjunctivitis


This inflammatory reaction happens due to allergies. It occurs when the eye reacts to pollen, dust mites, pet dander, or other allergens. The allergens trigger an immune response in the conjunctiva.


Children tend to suffer from allergic conjunctivitis due to their weaker immune systems and constant exposure to allergens.


Allergic conjunctivitis in children is rarely dangerous but it can cause discomfort and affect the quality of life. It is not contagious and is non-transferable.


Some of the eye irritations your child may experience are:


  • Itching

  • Redness

  • Watery discharge

  • Swelling

  • Burning or stinging sensation


Prevention involves minimizing exposure to allergens. Symptoms are manageable through antihistamines or topical medications with a doctor's prescription.



Summary


As parents or caregivers, being aware of the common eye infections in children equips you with knowledge to recognize warning symptoms early. Understanding the causes and symptoms can empower you to take proactive steps in effective prevention and treatment.


By promoting good eye care and hygiene practices, minimizing exposure to allergens, and seeking medical care when needed, you safeguard your children's eye health and ensure their vision remains clear and bright as they explore the world around them.


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Checked by Atanas Bogoev, MD.

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