My baby has a sticky eye

Sticky eyes are common in newborn babies while their tear ducts are developing.  You may see a sticky white or yellow discharge in the corner of one or both of your baby’s eyes, which may cause the eyelashes to stick together.  This is caused by a narrow or blocked tear ducts, which generally open up and begin draining normally within the first few months of life.

Sticky eyes are not the same as conjunctivitis; conjunctivitis affects the outer coating layer of the eye and inner surface of eyelids, which in babies may be caused by bacterial or viral infections that they may have picked up during or after birth. The signs of conjunctivitis include a yellow/green discharge and redness and swelling of the eye(s). If you notice this contact your GP as your baby may need antibiotic eye drops. Infection can be passed on easily, so wash your hands and use a separate towel for your baby.

If your baby has any of the following:

  • Becomes pale, mottled and feels abnormally cold to touch
  • Has pauses in their breathing lasting more than 10 seconds, is grunting or is going blue around the lips
  • Is stiff or rigid or makes repeated, jerky movements of arms or legs that doesn't stop when you hold them (a fit or seizure)
  • Becomes extremely agitated (crying inconsolably despite distraction), confused or very lethargic (difficult to wake)
  • Develops a rash that does not disappear with pressure (the ‘Glass Test’)
  • Is under 3 months of age with a temperature of 38°C / 100.4°F or above (unless fever in the 48 hours following vaccinations and no other red or amber features)

You need urgent help.

Go to the nearest Hospital Emergency (A&E) Department or phone 999

If your baby has any of the following:

  • Yellow/green discharge from one or both eyes
  • Redness of the whites of the eyes/around the eyes
  • Swelling of the eyes
  • Worsening symptoms or if you are worried
  • Difficulty breathing, including breathing fast all of the time; widening their nostrils or pulling in of the muscles below the ribs when breathing
  • Not interested in feeding and/or looks dehydrated (dry mouth, sunken eyes, no tears, drowsy, no wet nappies in the last 8 hours or sunken fontanelle (soft spot on the head))
  • Is becoming drowsy (excessively sleepy) or irritable (unable to settle them)

You need to contact a doctor or nurse today.

Please ring your GP surgery or call NHS 111 - dial 111

If your baby has none of the above features:

  • It is normal for a baby to have sticky yellow or white discharge in the corner of one or both eyes and can cause the eyelashes to stick together. This can last for several months.

Self care

Continue providing your child’s care at home. 

It normally clears up on its own, but you may have to clean your baby’s eyes regularly with damp cotton wool. Use clean, cooled boiled water and wipe each eye from the corner by the nose outwards. Use a clean piece of cotton wool for each wipe.  

Remember to wash your hands before and afterwards and avoid sharing towels.

If you are still concerned about your child contact your Health Visitor or call NHS 111 – dial 111

What should you do?

A sticky eye is not usually serious and clears up on its own, but you can treat it at home by cleaning your baby’s eyes regularly with damp cotton wool. Use clean, cooled boiled water and wipe each eye from the corner by the nose outwards. Use a clean piece of cotton wool for each wipe. Wash your hands before and afterwards. It may help if you massage the tear duct every few hours with a clean finger using gentle pressure on the outside of the nose, near the corner of the eye. If the tear duct is still blocked and continuing to cause a sticky eye by about 12 months of age see your GP who may refer your baby to an eye specialist.

Self Care

For wear and tear, minor trips and everything in between.

Self-care

You can treat your child's very minor illnesses and injuries at home.

Some illnesses can be treated in your own home with support and advice from the services listed when required, using the recommended medicines and getting plenty of rest.

Sound advice

Children can recover from illness quickly but also can become more poorly quickly; it is important to seek further advice if a child's condition gets worse.

For information on common childhood illnesses go to What is wrong with my child?

Local Pharmacist

Pharmacists are experts in many aspects of healthcare and can offer advice on a wide range of long-term conditions and common illnesses such as coughs, colds and stomach upsets. You don’t need an appointment and many have private consultation areas, so they are a good first port of call. Your pharmacist will say if you need further medical attention.

Sound advice

  1. Visit a pharmacy if your child is ill, but does not need to see a GP.
  2. Remember that if your child's condition gets worse, you should seek further medical advice immediately.
  3. Help your child to understand - watch this video with them about going to the pharmacy.

For information on common childhood illnesses go to What is wrong with my child?

Health Visitors

Health visitors are nurses or midwives who are passionate about promoting healthy lifestyles and preventing illness through the delivery of the Healthy Child Programme. They work with you through your pregnancy up until your child is ready to start school.

Health Visitors can also make referrals for you to other health professionals for example hearing or vision concerns or to the Community Paediatricians or to the child and adolescent mental health services.

Contact them by phoning your Health Visitor Team or local Children’s Centre.

Sound advice

Health visitors also provide advice, support and guidance in caring for your child, including:

  • Breastfeeding, weaning and healthy eating
  • Exercise, hygiene and safety
  • Your child’s growth and development
  • Emotional health and wellbeing, including postnatal depression
  • Safety in the home
  • Stopping smoking
  • Contraception and sexual health
  • Sleep and behaviour management (including temper tantrums!)
  • Toilet training
  • Minor illnesses

For more information watch the video: What does a health visitor do?

School Nurses

School nurses care for children and young people, aged 5-19, and their families, to ensure their health needs are supported within their school and community. They work closely with education staff and other agencies to support parents, carers and the children and young people, with physical and/or emotional health needs.

Contacting the School Nurse

Primary and secondary schools have an allocated school nurse – telephone your child’s school to ask for the contact details of your named school nurse.

There is also a specialist nurse who works with families who choose to educate their children at home.

Sound Advice

Before your child starts school your health visitor will meet with the school nursing team to transfer their care to the school nursing service. The school nursing team consists of a school nursing lead, specialist public health practitioners and school health staff nurses.

They all have a role in preventing disease and promoting health and wellbeing, by:-

  • encouraging healthier lifestyles
  • offering immunisations
  • giving information, advice and support to children, young people and their families
  • supporting children with complex health needs

Each member of the team has links with many other professionals who also work with children including community paediatricians, child and adolescent mental health teams, health visitors and speech and language therapists. The school health nursing service also forms part of the multi-agency services for children, young people and families where there are child protection or safeguarding issues.

GP (General Practitioner)

GPs assess, treat and manage a whole range of health problems. They also provide health education, give vaccinations and carry out simple surgical procedures. Your GP will arrange a referral to a hospital specialist should you need it.

Sound advice

You have a choice of service:

  1. Doctors/GPs can treat many illnesses that do not warrant a visit to A&E.
  2. Help your child to understand – watch this video with them about visiting the GP or going to a walk in centre

For information on common childhood illnesses go to What is wrong with my child?

NHS 111

If you’re not sure which NHS service you need, call 111. An adviser will ask you questions to assess your symptoms and then give you the advice you need, or direct you straightaway to the best service for you in your area.

Sound advice

Use NHS 111 if you are unsure what to do next, have any questions about a condition or treatment or require information about local health services.

For information on common childhood illnesses go to What is wrong with my child?

Accident and Emergency

A&E departments provide vital care for life-threatening emergencies, such as loss of consciousness, suspected heart attacks, breathing difficulties, or severe bleeding that cannot be stopped. If you’re not sure it’s an emergency, call 111 for advice.

Sound advice

  1. Many visits to A&E and calls to 999 could be resolved by any other NHS services.
  2. If your child's condition is not critical, choose another service to get them the best possible treatment.
  3. Help your child to understand – watch this video with them about going to A&E or riding in an ambulance
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