Q: Last week my baby's left eye got red. Yellow pus began coming out of it. My mother said she had "pink eye" and it would go away with warm compresses, but the doctor said it was "conjunctivitis" and gave us some drops to put in both eyes.
The redness is gone now, but I wonder who was right.
A: It sounds to us as though your doctor and mother agreed about the diagnosis. They just used different names for the same condition. Pink eye is a form of conjunctivitis.
The conjunctiva is a transparent lining that covers the inside of the eyelid then doubles back to cover the exposed part of the eyeball. When the conjunctiva is inflamed, the condition is call conjunctivitis. Infection, allergy or chemicals can inflame the conjunctiva, that is, cause conjunctivitis.
"Pink eye" means conjunctivitis caused by bacterial infection. The white part of the eye will often appear red, "bloodshot," and somewhat swollen. The eye may seem wet with tears, and pus may drain from it. There may be mild pain or discomfort, but vision in the eye remains normal.
Administration of antibiotic eye drops or ointment usually clears up the infection in a matter of days, which is fortunate since pinkeye is contagious. Your mother's treatment of warm compresses was used before antibiotics were available.
Not all red eyes are "pink eye." It is best to visit the doctor so that the cause of eye inflammation can be determined and the best treatment prescribed. Medical advice should be obtained as soon as possible when vision is decreased, the lids are discolored, or the eye is quite painful or sensitive to light. These symptoms are not a usual part of pink eye.
Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.