Conjunctivitis in Newborns
When a child is born their parents take on a very important responsibility. Not only are they responsible for the health, care and well-being of the child, they must also help to protect their baby’s vision. Infections, eye disorders and even the sun can cause serious problems for a newborn. One common newborn eye problem is known as conjunctivitis or pink eye.
What is Conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis is a general term that is used to describe an eye where the white has a pinkish color. It generally results from swelling, inflammation or infection of the membranes that line the eye. Conjunctivitis can be caused by allergies, viruses, bacteria, fungi and more. In infants the most common causes are a chlamydia or gonorrhea infection passed onto the newborn during birth, blocked tear ducts or irritation from the chemical eye drops used shortly after delivery. Conjunctivitis is serious and can lead to vision loss if it isn’t properly treated. In newborns cases of chlamydial or gonococcal conjunctivitis are the most serious. Other bacteria can also cause infection and lead to infant eye sight loss.
What Are the Symptoms of Conjunctivitis in Newborns?
Conjunctivitis in newborns can develop quickly. Often signs are seen as quickly as one day after birth or can develop any time during the next two weeks. Newborns often experience drainage from the eyes and have swollen, red or puffy eyelids. Each type of conjunctivitis can carry different symptoms. For example an infant with chlamydial conjunctivitis might have red eyes, swollen eyelids and a pus discharge anywhere from 5-12 days after birth while an infant with chemical caused conjunctivitis might have mildy red eyes and slight swelling that disappears in a day or two after birth. Watching for any sign of conjunctivitis is important as immediate treatment can help to lessen complications and may save the sight of the infant. If you notice signs of conjunctivitis in your newborn contact your doctor immediately.
Prevention of Conjunctivitis in Newborns
Since bacteria and viruses commonly found in the mother’s vagina can be passed into an infant’s eyes during delivery most states require that chemical eye drops or ointments are applied shortly after birth. In the past silver nitrate was used, but most hospitals now treat all newborn’s eyes with erythromycin. Sexually transmitted diseases can cause this condition, but in rare cases other common bacteria can cause problems. In some cases the mother might not even know that she has an infection or that she is harboring a bacterium that could harm her infant’s eye sight.
Many hospitals also require vaginal testing before delivery. They may require tests for chlamydia, gonorrhea and other bacteria during the third trimester of pregnancy. This gives time to clear up any infections before delivery and can reduce a newborn’s exposure to vaginal bacteria.
If a newborn contracts conjunctivitis there are many treatment options available. The treatment used will vary depending on the severity of the condition as well as the cause of the conjunctivitis. Creams, antibiotic ointments, eye drops and antibiotics may all be used. Often they are used alone or in combination with each other. Saline drops and rinses may also be used to clear pus from the infant’s eyes.
Blocked Tear Duct- Conjunctivitis caused by a blocked tear duct is treated by trying to unblock the problem duct. Gentle massage between the eye and the nose may be effective. Surgery may be required if the duct does not open up within the first year of the infant’s life.
Chlamydial (Inclusion) Conjunctivitis- This form of conjunctivitis is generally treated with a series of oral antibiotics given to the newborn.
Gonococcal Conjunctivitis- The newborn typically receives IV antibiotics. This form of conjunctivitis needs immediate treatment as it can quickly lead to corneal ulcerations and blindness.
Chemical Conjunctivitis- This form of conjunctivitis is typically caused by a reaction to the eye drops administered shortly after birth. No treatment is needed and it will often clear up on its own in a day or two.
Other Bacterial or Viral Infections- In rare cases conjunctivitis can be caused by other bacterial or viral infections. These are typically treated with antibiotic eye drops or creams. A warm compress may also be used to reduce swelling, pain and irritation.
Parents have an important responsibility to care for the eyesight of their new baby. Knowing the signs and treatment options for newborn conjunctivitis will help you to seek immediate treatment should an infection present. Quick treatment might make the difference between resolving the problem and permanent vision loss or blindness.
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