How to Identify and Treat Pink Eye in Babies

Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, refers to inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva, the membrane that covers the whites of the eyes and inner eyelids. When this membrane becomes infected with a bacterium or virus, inflammation can occur.

Pink eye in newborns may lead to serious complications and requires medical treatment right away.

This article provides an overview of pink eye in babies, including how to recognize it and when to seek treatment. 

Baby with pink eye

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Early Signs of Pink Eye in Babies

It can be challenging to recognize the early signs of pink eye in newborns and infants. You may notice that your child’s eyelids appear red and puffy. The eyelids may also feel tender to your little one as well.

Symptoms of Pink Eye in Babies

Symptoms of pink eye in babies include:

  • Eye redness 
  • Eye discharge
  • Crusting over the eyelids or eyelashes 
  • Rubbing the eyes 
  • Increased tear production
  • Fussiness or irritability 

Pink eye in babies can sometimes be mistaken for a blocked tear duct. The tear ducts are small tubes that drain tears from the eyes. Tears are made in the glands under the eyelids, and they serve to wash the eyes and keep them clean. When the tear ducts become blocked, they cannot drain from the eyes. A blocked tear duct is relatively common in newborns and usually resolves on its own by their first birthday.

Pink Eye Causes

Possible causes of pink eye in newborns include:

  • Chlamydial pink eye: This occurs when a birthing parent with untreated genital chlamydia passes the infection to the baby during childbirth. Newborns with this type of pink eye usually develop symptoms about five to 12 days after birth.
  • Gonorrheal pink eye: This occurs when a birthing parent with untreated gonorrhea passes the infection during childbirth. Symptoms usually begin about two to five days after birth. This infection can lead to serious complications, including bacteremia and meningitis
  • Chemical pink eye: This occurs when a newborn’s eyes become irritated from antibiotic eye drops administered at birth. Symptoms usually last about 24–36 hours.

Causes of pink eye in older infants and children include:

  • Bacterial pink eye: It spreads quickly among infants and children and may sometimes present with an ear infection. 
  • Viral pink eye: It is most often caused by the adenovirus, is very contagious, and often causes watery discharge from the eyes.  
  • Allergic pink eye: Common triggers include trees, weeds, grass, plants, mold, pet dander, and dust mites. Babies with eczema are at higher risk of experiencing allergic pink eye. 
  • Irritant pink eye: This occurs when an irritant (dust, smoke, or chemicals) or a foreign body is in the eye.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

See your healthcare provider if you notice pink eye in your newborn baby. This could be a sign of a serious infection that needs to be treated right away. 

If your infant or toddler has pink eye, it’s important to see your provider if they develop any of the following symptoms: 

How to Protect Yourself

When your baby has pink eye, washing your hands is the best way to protect yourself. The infection spreads when you come in contact with discharge from your child’s infected eye. This could happen while caring for your baby or when touching an object that has been contaminated. Do your best to avoid touching your face or rubbing your eyes. 


Treatment for pink eye in babies depends on the underlying cause. Many cases resolve on their own without medical treatment, but bacterial infections require antibiotics. 

Home Remedies

Home remedies may be helpful if your healthcare provider has determined that your child’s pink eye does not require medical treatment. Some treatments to try include:

  • Warm compress: Use a warm compress to remove discharge and crusting from the eye and eyelashes.
  • Cold compress: Holding a cold compress lightly over your baby’s eye may help to relieve inflammation.
  • Handwashing: While caring for your baby, wash your hands frequently. 

When treating pink eye at home, the healing times may vary:

  • Chemical pink eye: Resolves in 24–36 hours 
  • Viral pink eye: Resolves in seven to 14 days
  • Allergic pink eye: Resolves when the allergen is removed
  • Irritant pink eye: Resolves when the irritant is removed 

Medical Treatment

Medical treatment for pink eye usually involves antibiotics to treat a bacterial infection. These types of pink eye require the following antibiotics:

  • Chlamydial pink eye: Oral antibiotics
  • Gonorrheal pink eye: Intravenous (IV) or intramuscular (IM) antibiotics 
  • Bacterial pink eye: Antibiotic eye drops or ointment


Pink eye is very contagious, but there are steps that you can take to lower your risk of getting it. Pink eye spreads when your hands become contaminated with the infection. When you touch your eyes or face, the infection can spread to your eye. 

If your child has pink eye, be mindful of not touching your face after caring for them. Some additional tips include:

  • Washing hands: Frequent handwashing is the best way to prevent pink eye. Wash your hands after coming in contact with your baby or any item they may have touched. 
  • Cleaning surfaces: Disinfect any surfaces or toys your baby has touched. This will need to be done throughout the day. 
  • Seeking medical care: Consult your healthcare provider if your baby shows signs of pink eye. Bacterial causes of pink eye often require antibiotics. Antibiotic therapy may shorten the duration of illness and contagiousness. 


Pink eye refers to inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva, a clear membrane covering the eye and inner eyelid. Pink eye is relatively common in babies and may be caused by an infection, irritation, or blocked tear duct. A healthcare provider should evaluate newborns with signs of pink eye immediately. Treatment depends on the cause and may include antibiotic therapy.

A Word From Verywell

New parents have a lot to worry about, and pink eye may be one of them. While many cases of pink eye in babies are mild and resolve on their own, it is important to let your healthcare provider know. Gonorrheal pink eye has serious complications that could significantly affect your baby’s health. Call your healthcare provider if you’re unsure what is causing your baby’s eye redness.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can pink eye in babies go away on its own?

    Yes, if the cause of your baby’s pink eye is viral, the condition will likely go away after a few days. However, pink eye in a newborn could be a sign of a serious infection. See your healthcare provider if your baby develops symptoms of pink eye. 

  • When should I take my baby to a healthcare provider for pink eye?

    It is important to consult your healthcare provider immediately if your newborn has signs of pink eye. 

  • Can you use eye drops on a baby?

    Your healthcare provider may recommend antibiotic eye drops to treat your baby’s infection. These eye drops require a prescription. Do not use over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops to treat your baby’s eyes.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pink eye (conjunctivitis) in newborns.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Signs and symptoms of pink eye (conjunctivitis).

  4. Nemours Kids Health. Tear-duct blockage (for parents).

  5. American Academy of Pediatrics. Pinkeye (conjunctivitis).

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Causes of pink eye (conjunctivitis).

  7. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Why are my eyes itchy? Answers from an expert.

  8. National Eye Institute. Pink eye in newborns.

  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Treating pink eye (conjunctivitis).

By Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH
Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH, is a health writer with over a decade of experience working as a registered nurse. She has practiced in a variety of settings including pediatrics, oncology, chronic pain, and public health.