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conjunctivitis; sore; eye; sticky; injury; allergy; tear; duct; blocked; trachoma; infectious; allergic; cellulitis; cornea; conjunctiva; discharge; infection; gonorrhoea ;

Conjunctivitis causes sore, red and sticky eyes. It is usually not serious although it can be uncomfortable. Some kinds of conjunctivitis can cause damage to the eyes.


Any injury to the eye (eg being hit or scratched) should be seen to as soon as possible by a doctor.

If the tissue around the eye (skin and eyelids) becomes swollen, red and sore, the infection may be in the skin and underlying tissues (cellulitis) which can be much more serious than conjunctivitis. Make sure the child is seen by a doctor as soon as possible.

More information 

As well as the information in this topic, there is information about conjunctitivis on these sites:

What is conjunctivitis?

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  • Conjunctivitis is caused by an infection of the lining of the eyelids and of the outer protective layer of the eye (the conjunctiva). It can be caused by a germ (virus or bacteria).
  • It may not always be clear which type of problem is present as each will cause reddening of the conjunctiva.
  • If it is caused by bacteria both eyes are almost always infected, although it may start in one eye. There is likely to be a gritty feeling and pus.
  • Conjunctivitis from a virus may involve one or both eyes, causing red itchy eyes and watering of the eyes. There may also be pus and a gritty feeling.

Red, itchy, watering eyes can also be caused by hayfever. There are often other signs including itchy nose and sneezing.

Important note

Sore eyes, or where there is a lot of pus or watering from the eyes, should be seen by a doctor as soon as possible. If one eye only is painful or has pus or is watering, this may be due to something on the eye or under the eyelid.

Health problems from conjunctivitis

  • Some forms of conjunctivitis can cause serious damage to the eyes, such as trachoma and gonococcal conjunctivitis in babies.
  • Most conjunctivitis is not serious, and even if not treated the body's immune system controls it within a few days.

How is conjunctivitis spread?

  • The virus causing conjunctivitis spreads very easily. It can be spread both by touching the water or pus that comes out of the eye and by coughing or sneezing if there is a 'cold' at the same time.
  • Conjunctivitis from bacteria can be spread by hands touching the pus from the eye and moving it to other eyes, and trachoma can also be spread by flies.
  • Conjunctivitis from allergies is not infectious.

Careful hand washing is very important to prevent spreading, especially before and after touching the eyes or face.

How long conjunctivitis takes to develop

Usually 1 - 3 days.

How long is conjunctivitis contagious?

  • If conjunctivitis is due to a bacterial infection, it is contagious until the eyes are no longer red and there is no discharge (this may be after several days without treatment, or about 24 hours after starting effective treatment.)
  • If the conjunctivitis is due to a viral infection, it may take several days before the eyes are clear, and the person is infectious until the eyes are back to normal.
  • Conjunctivitis due to an allergy is not contagious, so children and adults with it do not need to be kept away from others.

What you can do


  • It is important to see your doctor to check which kind of conjunctivitis your child has.
  • Bacterial conjunctivitis may need antibiotic ointment or drops from a doctor.
  • Viral conjunctivitis - there is no special treatment, it will get better on its own. Gentle cleaning of the eyes may help them feel better.
  • Allergic conjunctivitis may be helped by treatment used for other problems of hayfever (eg antihistamines).

Protection from conjunctivitis

  • Careful hand washing is most important to stop the spread of conjunctivitis, but even with this some viral conjunctivitis will spread quickly in places such as child care centres. Children and adults with conjunctivitis should stay away from school, child care or work until it is better.
  • Hand washing with soap after touching the child, disposal of tissues after one use and not sharing towels is important.

Cleaning sore eyes

  • Regular cleaning away of the pus is useful to help the child feel better. It may help the infection clear up more quickly.
  • Eyes can be cleaned either towards the nose from the outside in, or from the inside out, whichever is easier.
  • It is important to use a separate cotton wool ball or tissue for each eye, and to use warm but not hot water.
  • Wipe the closed eye gently but firmly to remove the excess pus - do not clean inside the eyelids as this may cause damage to the conjunctiva or the cornea (the clear front of the eye).

Which way to clean the eye?

Tear flow, which is part of the way the cornea and conjunctiva are kept clean, is from outside corner of the eye towards the nose. Cleaning in this direction might make some sense, but it really does not matter. Most people clean the eye from the nose outwards because children turn their heads away and it can be easier to keep the cotton ball or tissue in contact with the eyelids.

Sticky eyes

Many babies (about 5%) are born with a blockage to the tear duct which stops tears draining away to the nose. Most of these babies (90%) will have normal tear ducts within one year without treatment.


Trachoma is a chronic (long lasting) conjunctivitis caused by one of the types of chlamydia (bacteria). It is common in many parts of the world where people live in areas where good hygiene is not possible and there are many flies. It is spread from one person to another by hands or by flies. Trachoma is still a major problem amongst Australian Aboriginal people who live in remote areas.


Department of Health, South Australia, Fact sheet - 'Conjunctivitis'  

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC- USA) 'Trachoma'  

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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