Types of conjunctivitis in new-borns and children

Eyes which are red, pink, or swollen may be infected with conjunctivitis. It’s a common but somewhat unpleasant condition where the eyelids and the conjunctiva become inflamed.

Typically, conjunctivitis affects both eyes and is usually infectious.

In young patients, conjunctivitis is generally grouped into either new-born conjunctivitis or childhood conjunctivitis. Each group has different causes and different treatment options.

Types of new-born conjunctivitis

There are several different types of conjunctivitis that commonly affect new-borns. They include:

Gonococcal conjunctivitis

Gonococcal conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria called N. gonorrhoea. A new-born baby may contract this type of bacteria from an infected mother during vaginal birth. It’s one of the most severe types but it can be prevented by eye drops being administered soon after delivery.

A new-born baby with gonococcal conjunctivitis will have very red, swollen eyes with thick fluid that leaks from the eyelids. Symptoms usually begin around 2 to 5 days following birth, and treatment usually involves IV antibiotics.

Chemical conjunctivitis

This is a much rarer form of conjunctivitis in new-borns. It’s the result of a reaction to eye drops that have previously been administered to try and prevent a bacterial infection. The eyes are generally red and inflamed, with symptoms occurring within hours of the eye drops having been given. Although this type of conjunctivitis doesn’t usually require treatment, symptoms can last between 2 and 4 days.

Inclusion conjunctivitis

This is a another form of bacterial conjunctivitis. It is caused when a baby is infected with Chlamydia trachomatis. Again, symptoms include swollen eyelids, red eyes and the presence of thick fluid. Symptoms typically begin 5 to 14 days following birth, with treatment involving oral antibiotics.

Infection from other bacteria

Once a baby is one week old or more, conjunctivitis may be the result of numerous other types of bacteria. The eyes will be swollen and sore, and again there is likely to be some drainage.

Treatment options will depend on what type of bacteria is behind the infection. Ointments applied to the eye or antibiotic drops will be needed, as well as warm compress treatment.

What about conjunctivitis in an older child?

Conjunctivitis is also extremely common in toddlers and older children. As it’s so infectious, it’s common to see outbreaks in schools and day care settings.

The most common causes of childhood conjunctivitis are:

  • Viruses, including the herpes virus.
  • Bacteria
  • Allergies

The infection can spread from one eye to the other (and to other people) when fluid is transferred by touching or rubbing. Fluid from the eye is still contagious for 24 to 48 hours after starting treatment.

Types of conjunctivitis in older children

There are many different causes of conjunctivitis. Below are the most common ones.



  • Haemophilus influenza
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Chlamydia trachomatis
  • Neisseria gonorrhoea
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae



  • Herpes virus
  • Adenoviruses


  • Allergies
  • Chemicals in new-born eye drops

Enhance your skills in diagnosing common conditions in both new-borns and children

If you are a nurse or other healthcare professional looking to bolster your skills around common paediatric conditions, then our CPD course Paediatric minor illness is well worth considering.

This highly interactive online programme looks at a range of conditions seen in young patients, giving you the tools to diagnose and treat them effectively. As it’s offered via Zoom it’s perfect for online learning remotely in a flexible way. 

The course runs over 3 consecutive days and is worth 21 hours of CPD. It is a popular course and so get signed up today!