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Eye Drops for Kids

Pediatric physicians prescribe eye drops for several childhood conditions. The most common conditions include allergies and pink eye. Lazy eye and other ongoing conditions may also require treatment with eyedrops.

However, the question in your mind is probably the same for most parents. How do you get your child to hold still long enough to get the medication in their eyes? Fortunately, administering eye drops to your child does not have to involve a wrestling match or prying tiny eyes open. Learning why, when, and how to use eye drops for your child will help both of you through the treatment process.

Understanding why you should use eye drops

Using eye drops rather than an oral medication can minimize the risk of side effects. Symptom relief may also be faster with eye drops. The drops deliver medication directly to the affected area, rather than requiring medication to run its course through the body.

In some cases, your child’s current doctor may prescribe eye drops in addition to oral medications. For example, if the child suffers from severe allergies, oral medication alone may not control symptoms. Adding an eye drop rather than another oral allergy medication may be the best course of treatment for your child.

Determining when to use eye drops for kids

Eye drops treat several childhood ailments, including allergies, bacterial infections, and ongoing conditions like amblyopia (lazy eye) or pediatric glaucoma.

Allergy eye drops

Most allergens that affect the eyes are airborne. They float through the air until they reach the eyes, where they trigger an allergic reaction. Some common airborne allergens include pollen, pet dander, and household dust.

If your child experiences eye allergies, he or she may rub their eyes frequently or complain of itching. The eyes may be watery and appear red or pink. The eyelids may swell slightly. Although no discharge may be present, allergies sometimes produce a sticky, stringy discharge. Pain or fever does not typically accompany allergy symptoms.

Your current family doctor may recommend an over-the-counter eye drop to manage allergy symptoms. Make sure you use an eyedrop with an A before or after the name. The letter indicates that the formula treats the underlying cause of the allergies as well as the symptoms. In some cases, the doctor may recommend prescription allergy eye drops for your child. Talk to a doctor or pharmacist about how often to apply the eye drops and how long treatment should last.

Antibiotic eye drops

Doctors typically use antibiotic eye drops to treat bacterial eye infections. However, most cases of pink eye are viral and will not respond to antibiotic treatment. In these cases, symptom management can keep your child comfortable until the virus runs its course.

Most antibiotic eye drops have FDA approval for use in children older than 1-2 years of age. A few are appropriate for younger infants, while others should only be used in children 6 years of age or older. In some children, antibiotics can cause an allergic reaction. Since this includes antibiotic eye drops, discuss potential risks with a doctor or pharmacist.

Other types of eye drops

Physicians may prescribe eye drops to treat congenital or ongoing conditions in children. Two of these conditions include lazy eye and pediatric glaucoma.

To treat lazy eye in children, a doctor must find a way to force the weaker eye to do most of the work. This strengthens the eye, correcting the condition. Conventional treatment for adults and older children involves wearing an eye patch on the stronger eye for at least six hours per day. However, young children may not comply with this treatment. Amblyopia eye drops contain atropine, which temporarily blurs vision in the unaffected eye. Studies show that atropine treatment is as effective as wearing an eye patch.

Glaucoma damages nerves in the eyes due to unsafe levels of pressure in the eyeball. The eye drops that treat glaucoma affect the condition in one of two ways. First, they affect how much fluid the eyes produce. Alternatively, they can help remove excess fluid from the eyes. Both methods result in lower eye pressure, reducing the risk of additional damage to the optical nerves.

Using eye drops that are safe for kids

Not all eye drops are prescription medications. Many are available over the counter, including antihistamine and decongestant formulas. When using over-the-counter eye drops, read the label for recommended age guidelines. If your child is below the recommended age for use, do not use the eye drops without talking to a doctor.

However, artificial tears that do not contain these medications are typically safe for use in children of all ages. These lubricating drops help relieve dry eye symptoms. You can also use them to wash out irritating allergens like pollen or pet dander. Removing the source of the irritation can reduce symptoms quickly.

Administering eye drops for kids

Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to pry your child’s eye open to insert eye drops. However, you may need to vary your technique depending on whether your child will cooperate.

Be aware that some eye drops can cause strange or unpleasant sensations. For example, it can cause a funny taste in the mouth when eye drops drain to the back of the throat. Some formulas may sting slightly as well. Being patient and empathetic will help you and your child master the treatment process.

Administering eye drops to a cooperative child

Follow these steps when your older child is willing to help. Note that children who wear contacts should take them out. They may need to switch to glasses during the treatment period to help their eyes heal faster.

  1. Wash your hands with warm water and soap to keep from getting more bacteria or irritants in the eye.
  2. Ask your child to lie on their back, keeping their eyes open.
  3. Gently pull down the lower eyelid, then ask the child to look up.
  4. Deposit the correct number of drops between the lower eyelid and eyeball.
  5. Have your child blink a few times to distribute the medication over the surface of the eye.
  6. Repeat with the other eye if necessary.
  7. To keep the dropper free from contaminants, do not touch the tip to any surface, including the eyeball, eyelash, or eyelid.
  8. Wash your hands again to prevent spreading bacteria and allergens.

Applying eye drops for young or uncooperative children

Make sure you wash your hands both before and after the procedure. This is especially important when dealing with bacterial eye infections and certain medications.

First, have your child lie down. Elevate their neck slightly with a rolled towel or small pillow; this helps prevent the medication from running down their face. Next, gently brace your wrist against the child’s forehead. This helps keep their head in the correct position and makes tip contamination less likely. Now Place a single drop into the eye’s inner corner. When your child blinks, the medication will enter the eye. Even if the child keeps their eyes closed, the medicine will still seep into the eye. If necessary, repeat this procedure with the remaining number of drops for each eye.

Tips for making the process easier

Giving your child this type of medication is not a clinical procedure; it is also relational. Use these tips to make eye drop application a smoother process for you and your child.

  • Make eye drop administration part of the child’s routine. It may work better if they get to do a favorite activity immediately afterward. Naming a reward before you start gives them something to look forward to doing.
  • Give the child a job to do: holding a tissue at either side of their head, near their eyes. This job keeps their hands out of the way and helps them feel more in control of the situation. Try combining this with the inner corner technique for best results.
  • Every parent experiences moments of frustration. Give yourself permission to take a break and come back a few minutes later.
  • With children who are old enough to reason, explain why the eye drops are necessary. Gently but firmly let them know that avoiding the eye drops is not an option, but doing something together afterward is.
  • A little positive attention goes a long way. Praise good behavior, and spend a few minutes afterward snuggling and soothing regardless of how your child behaved. Being pinned down can be scary, and this can help rebuild trust between you.
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