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Conjunctivitis of the Newborn

Ophthalmia Neonatorum

What is newborn conjunctivitis? — Newborn conjunctivitis is a condition that causes eyelid swelling, eye redness, and other symptoms in newborn babies.
In the United States, newborn conjunctivitis is usually caused by an infection the mother caught during sex. The most common infections that cause it are chlamydia, gonorrhea, and herpes. Many women get tested for these infections before giving birth, but not all do. The baby is more likely to get the infection if he or she is born through the mother's vagina. But babies born by cesarean delivery can get newborn conjunctivitis too. A cesarean delivery (also called a "c-section") is surgery to deliver the baby.
A few other types of infections can cause newborn conjunctivitis. These infections are not caught during sex.
What are the symptoms of newborn conjunctivitis? — The symptoms of newborn conjunctivitis usually happen 2 days to 6 weeks after birth. They include:
Watery liquid from the eyes – This is not the same as normal tears.
Thick, gooey liquid that comes from the eyes
Eyelid swelling
Red eyes
Crying and acting like the eye hurts
Antibiotic medicine is placed in the eyes of most newborn babies in the United States soon after birth. This helps prevent conjunctivitis caused by gonorrhea. It does not prevent conjunctivitis from other infections.
Should I take my baby to the doctor or nurse? — Yes. See a doctor or nurse right away if your baby has symptoms of newborn conjunctivitis. If it is not treated, it can cause serious eye problems and blindness.
Will my baby need tests? — Yes. The doctor or nurse will ask about the baby's symptoms and do an exam. He or she will do tests to look for the cause of newborn conjunctivitis.
Tests can include:
Tests on a sample of liquid from the eyes
Blood tests
A lumbar puncture (sometimes called a "spinal tap") – During this procedure, a doctor puts a thin needle into the lower back and takes out a small amount of spinal fluid. Spinal fluid is the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. He or she will do lab tests on the spinal fluid.
Tests on a small sample of cells from the eye, throat, or rectum, or a sample of a bowel movement
How is newborn conjunctivitis treated? — Newborn conjunctivitis is treated with medicine. This can be:
Antibiotics to fight bacteria – The baby might get these medicines by mouth, as a shot, or through an "IV" (a thin tube that goes into a vein). The type of antibiotic depends on what kind of infection is causing the conjunctivitis.
Medicine to fight infection from a virus – This is called "antiviral medicine." Doctors give this for newborn conjunctivitis caused by the herpes virus.
Some babies get treatment in the hospital for newborn conjunctivitis. This could happen if the conjunctivitis could cause other eye problems or spread to other parts of the body.
Can newborn conjunctivitis be prevented? — Yes. There are good ways to prevent newborn conjunctivitis. You can do the following things:
See a doctor or nurse before getting pregnant, or as soon as you get pregnant. He or she can check for infections that could cause newborn conjunctivitis. You can get treatment before you give birth. This can keep the baby from getting conjunctivitis.
Check to make sure your baby gets eye antibiotics right after birth. This is part of routine newborn care in the United States. The antibiotics can lower the risk of infection with gonorrhea. This infection is one cause of newborn conjunctivitis.
All topics are updated as new evidence becomes available and our peer review process is complete.
This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Apr 30, 2018.
Topic 83759 Version 3.0
Release: 26.1.4-100 - C26.112
© 2018 UpToDate, Inc. and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.

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