13.3  Eye infection: conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis is common in young children, especially if they come into contact with other children with conjunctivitis. There are different types of conjunctivitis that infants and children can suffer from, some more serious than others and potentially leading to loss of vision.

Acute conjunctivitis, or red eye, is usually a bacterial or viral infection of the eye characterised by a rapid onset of symptoms that persists for a few days.

Neonatal conjunctivitis, or ophthalmia neonatorum, is purulent conjunctivitis during the first ten days of life, usually acquired during birth. If the mother has gonorrhoea this can cause conjunctivitis in the newborn by infection during the birth.

Purulent is pronounced ‘purr-you-lent’, and means ‘with pus’.

Purulent conjunctivitis is eye infection with pus discharge from the eyes; it is caused by bacteria. In newborns, if the mother has gonorrhoea it can cause severe conjunctivitis with profuse purulent discharge.


There are a number of ways to treat acute conjunctivitis. You should show the mother how she can treat her child at home, following the steps outlined below.

13.2.3  Follow-up care for throat problems

13.3.1  Treat eye infection with tetracycline eye ointment