Effect of "Pink Eye" Label on Parents' Intent to Use Antibiotics and Perceived Contagiousness

Clin Pediatr (Phila). 2016 Jun;55(6):543-8. doi: 10.1177/0009922815601983. Epub 2015 Aug 20.


Parents of children who presented for a pediatrics appointment responded to a clinical vignette that described a child with symptoms consistent with acute viral conjunctivitis. In a 2 × 2 randomized survey design, the physician in the vignette either used the term "pink eye" or "eye infection" to describe the symptoms, and either told parents that antibiotics are likely ineffective at treating the symptoms or did not discuss effectiveness. When the symptoms were referred to as "pink eye," parents remained interested in antibiotics, despite being informed about their ineffectiveness. By contrast, when the symptoms were referred to as an "eye infection," information about antibiotic ineffectiveness significantly reduced interest, Mdiff = 1.63, P < .001. Parents who received the "pink eye" label also thought that the symptoms were more contagious and were less likely to believe that their child could go to child care, compared with parents who received the "eye infection" label, Mdiff = 0.37, P = .38.

Keywords: antibiotics; conjunctivitis; disease labels; overtreatment; pink eye.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Communicable Diseases / psychology*
  • Conjunctivitis, Bacterial / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intention*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Young Adult


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents