Health & Fitness

Pink eye a year-round childhood illness

File photo
File photo File photo

Singing “wash, wash, wash your hands” to the tune of “Row, row, row your boat” is an effective way to combat pink eye at YMCA child care.

Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, is a common childhood illness year-round, but the nurse triage phone line at Wesley Healthcare has seen an increase in calls about the illness.

Racquel Sanchez, a physician at the Via Christi Clinic on Carriage Parkway, said she sees one or two kids per week with pink eye and has also received calls from parents worried about children with conjunctivitis.

“The biggest thing I always recommend if they do have pink eye is not to rub their eyes, not to scratch it,” Sanchez said in a phone interview. “I also recommend a warm compress to the eye if it does start feeling itchy.”

Even though it’s a mild illness, Sanchez said she always recommends a doctor’s evaluation. It might be something caught in the eye or an abrasion, she said, not pink eye at all.

Conjunctivitis can be caused by viruses or bacteria — both highly contagious — or by allergens and irritants, neither of which are contagious, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Public school kids in the United States miss 3 million school days each year as a result of pink eye, according to the CDC.

Newborns with symptoms of pink eye should see a doctor immediately.

Debbie Ogle, senior program director for child care and camp at the Greater Wichita YMCA, said in a phone interview that they see the illness regularly throughout the year.

They always encourage parents to use the same techniques they employ at the center, such as singing to encourage longer hand-washing.

Since small children struggle to keep their hands to themselves, a fun activity is to put glitter on children’s hands, demonstrating how germs spread as they touch things, Ogle said.

“Getting your children outside when you can ... is a great way to protect from illness, too. Let them get some fresh air,” Ogle said.

The illness typically lasts from two days to three weeks, according to the Kansas Classroom Handbook of Communicable Diseases. Children with pink eye can stay in school once any treatment is implemented, unless they behave in a way that close contact with other students can’t be avoided.

Thomas Moore, medical director of infection prevention at Wesley Healthcare, said in a phone interview that pink eye tends to increase when people are clustered together, as in winter.

Symptoms include redness or swelling, eye pain, watery eyes and crusting of the eyelids or lashes.

“Most of the time when patients have it they typically have a sensation of a foreign body in their eye, like a grain of sand in their eye. They wake up in the morning and their eye is crusted over,” Moore said.

Katherine Burgess: 316-268-6400, @KathsBurgess