Pharmacists often are asked questions about pink eye (conjunctivitis). This isn’t surprising, as it is a condition which spans across all age ranges and is highly contagious.
The question I received today, from a concerned parent, is one of the most common questions: “How soon can my child return to school?” The child had been prescribed topical antibiotic drops which they would begin on Saturday evening.
This is a very practical question. Unfortunately the answer is not straightforward or easy. Here is the problem:
1) Although they have been prescribed antibiotic drops, it is possible the infection is viral (most cases of infectious conjunctivitis are viral, rather than bacterial). Therefore, the administration of the drops may be doing nothing to reduce their potential for spreading this illness.
2) Other social factors must be considered. Is the eye still red and producing some discharge on Monday? Will this be a distraction to the child or to others? How likely is it that the child will be able to follow good handwashing practices to reduce the risk of spreading the infection?
As retail pharmacists we also have some challenges. We need to develop ways to answer these common questions with the maximum efficiency. A 10 minute discussion on the nature and challenges of pink eye is simply not practical most of the time.
So here is my approach. I tell parents: “Your child can return to school 24 hours after starting the drops as long as the symptoms have improved. Remind them to be diligent about washing their hands.”
That is my answer. It falls short of all of the things I would often like to say. Sometimes I would like to tell a parent to just take the day off of work – and stay home with a sick child. Sometimes I would like to remind parents that a few days out of school will probably not keep them from graduating. But we have to be honest and practical. We have to manage our schedules and help our patients.
That’s my honest answer.
For a good article reviewing the differences between viral and bacterial conjunctivitis – along with treatment issues – CLICK HERE.