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Mayo Clinic nixes eye drops as default pink eye treatment

Mayo Clinic Health System in Red Wing. File photo

Being seen for pink eye at Mayo Clinic no longer guarantees being sent home with antibiotic eye drops.

Based on research and in the interest of antibiotic stewardship, Mayo Clinic announced it has elected to discontinue its long-standing protocol of defaulting to antibiotic eye drops for eye redness and discharge.

Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is most commonly caused by a virus, therefore limiting the effectiveness of antibiotics as treatment, said Dr. Sarah Scherger, a Mayo Clinic Health System pediatrician.

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Dr. Sarah Scherger"You can have bacterial pink eye or bacterial lung infections and things like that, and antibiotics work for those — that's what antibiotics are designed to treat," Scherger said. "Viral infections, things like the common cold and a lot of the viruses that cause pink eye ... those viruses are self-limited, so your body can take care of them by itself, and they really won't respond to antibiotics."

The change comes at the same time the Minnesota Department of Health recently updated its website to reflect the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation to treat conjunctivitis similar to the common cold: a disease that is contagious but will clear up without treatment.

Children do not need to be kept home from school or day care because of pink eye, with some exceptions such as a fever or if the child is unable to participate in activities, according to the MDH website.

The health department plans to send out educational materials about the recommendation to schools this summer ahead of the new school year, a spokesman said.

Pink eye is typically spread through hand-to-eye contact. Preventative measures include washing hands and disinfecting surfaces and objects, Scherger said.

She said symptoms such as eyelid swelling or redness around the eye can be a sign of bacterial infection of the skin and should be checked by a doctor. Blurry or double vision, painful vision or eye discharge that lasts for several days also are good reasons to visit a clinic.

Scherger said pink eye is fairly common, with pockets of cases popping up consistently throughout the year.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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