Pink Floyd. The Pink Panther. Pink Eye.
One of these things is way overhyped.
By process of elimination, we can determine the culprit. Let’s see: the former put another brick in “The Wall” to international acclaim, while Peter Sellers slayed with “A Shot in the Dark” and five other hit films.
The latter? Eye crust, redness, and a runny nose?
I think we have our “winner.”
As we approach spring, KinderMender’s physicians are beginning to see more frequent occurrences of what is commonly referred to as pink eye, or conjunctivitis, for which there are three leading causes: allergies, viruses, and bacterial infection.
The merest mention of pink eye – which means precisely that, an irritated, pinkish eye that occasionally secretes pus – tends to strike fear into the souls of parents. Why? Well, to start, most children contract pink eye at school or at daycare. Why do children go to daycare? So their parents can go to work. With pink eye, however, children are not permitted to return to daycare until they are in the clear, and that means their parents must also stay home.
This disruption to the daily schedule is often far more upsetting than the ailment, itself.
When parents ask if their child has pink eye, what they are actually asking is, “Does my child have a bacterial eye infection that would benefit from antibiotic drops?”
In the vast majority of cases – the answer is no.
Though conjunctivitis is, admittedly, not pretty, it is important not to leap to conclusions. In most cases it is caused by a viral syndrome or allergens. Only a small percentage of children with pink eye will have a bacterial infection, though it does happen.
One of the biggest challenges facing medicine today is the overwhelming push from our patients to do something, when more often than not these conditions are completely normal and are indicative of the body righting itself. Treatment in these cases should be a matter of managing symptoms.
An ancillary issue with eye drops is that they can be a struggle, particularly with babies who do not take kindly to that sort of thing. If an infant has a virus, which is the most common cause of pink eye, drops will do nothing to get rid of the virus or prevent contagion. In which case, we’re simply creating a lot of stress.
On occasion, antibiotic drops may be prescribed to prevent against secondary infection, such as in the event of a corneal abrasion – or a scratch on the lens protecting the iris and the pupil. In such instances, however, we’re not treating the infection, but making a preemptive strike against potential issues down the road.
Bacterial infections obviously do rear their heads from time to time, in which cases the administering of antibiotics is strongly encouraged and beneficial. When other irritants are at work, however, parents and doctors alike should resist the need to force everything into what we consider “normal.”
Sometimes all that is needed is a warm rag and some TLC, which can be much more effective than all of the antibiotics in the world.