When a child develops red, watery eyes, it could be just allergies - or it may be the sign of a more serious eye condition, according to a leading pediatric ophthalmologist.
According to Bibiana Jin Reiser, M.D., M.S., a pediatric ophthalmologist with The Vision Center at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, "Red, itchy, watery eyes can be a temporary allergic reaction to pollen or other environmental irritants and should go away after a few days or weeks. However, if your child has red, itchy eyes year-round, if their eyes become seriously inflamed and produce a sticky, mucous-like fluid, or if they become very sensitive to the sun, it could be the sign of a more serious condition."
Dr. Reiser said that the common, mild form of seasonal or environmental ocular allergy is called allergic conjunctivitis. The conjunctiva is the thin, clear membrane covering the white part of the eye. This common condition can usually be treated effectively with eye drops or decongestants.
If your child is prone to this type of allergy, you should consider using hypoallergenic pillows, wrapping mattresses to prevent dust mites, closing windows and using air conditioning during high allergy season, removing pet dander and utilizing a vacuum with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter.
The more serious types of conditions that may initially mimic eye allergies are atopic conjunctivitis and vernal conjunctivitis. In the former, the child has red, watery eyes year-round and in the latter during the warmer months: April to August.
In vernal conjunctivitis, the child's eyes have severe redness and itching and may exude a sticky, mucous like substance. The child may complain of photophobia, a painful sensitivity to strong light. Vernal conjunctivitis is often seen in young males and can be associated with asthma or eczema.
Dr. Reiser said it is essential to see a family doctor or an eye doctor promptly if the child has one or more of these symptoms:
• says sunlight hurts his eyes;
• his eyes discharge a thick, mucous like substance;
• has symptoms that are not relieved by eye drops or decongestants;
• has additional allergic symptoms, like eczema or asthma.
Dr. Reiser noted that your family physician may refer you to a pediatric ophthalmologist if the symptoms persist or get worse.
"It is important to treat serious conditions like vernal conjunctivitis promptly, because if left untreated, they may lead to ulcers in the eye or even corneal scarring," Dr. Reiser said.