4 Things Parents Need To Know About Neonatal Conjunctivitis

Neonatal conjunctivitis, also called opthalmia neonatorum or pink eye, is an eye condition that affects newborn babies. The condition occurs when the conjunctiva, the outer lining of the eye, becomes irritated or infected. Here are four things parents need to know about neonatal conjunctivitis.

What causes neonatal conjunctivitis?

Infants are exposed to bacteria and viruses as they travel through their mother's birth canal. In some cases, these pathogens can enter their eyes and lead to infections. Sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and herpes can lead to this condition. Gram-positive organisms that are natural inhabitants of the female reproductive system, like staphylococcus aerus, can also lead to pink eye in babies, despite being harmless for their mothers.

What are the signs of neonatal conjunctivitis?

The signs of neonatal conjunctivitis appear in the first two to 14 days of life, depending on the pathogen responsible. Your baby's eyelids will be swollen and watery, or purulent discharge will be present.

Chemosis is another sign of this condition. Chemosis is the medical term for red, irritated eyes. If you notice these signs, take your baby to an optometrist immediately.

Can neonatal conjunctivitis cause permanent eye problems?

Pink eye isn't a major concern for older children or adults, but for newborn babies, it's very serious. The inflammation and infection can lead to problems like corneal perforation, which is a tear or hole in the cornea, the tissue that covers the iris and pupil. Corneal perforation can lead to scarring and permanent vision damage. Fortunately, this complication can be avoided by seeking prompt treatment for your infant.

How is neonatal conjunctivitis treated?

The treatment for neonatal conjunctivitis depends on the pathogen that's causing it, so your optometrist will need to swab your child's eyes before beginning treatment. This swab will then be analyzed for the presence of bacteria and viruses. Once the pathogen has been identified, your optometrist will begin an appropriate treatment.

If chlamydia is responsible, oral antibiotics will be used to clear up the infection. If gonorrhea is responsible, your baby will need to receive intravenous antibiotics and have their eyes irrigated frequently.

Other bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotic eye drops. If a virus like herpes is responsible, antibiotics won't work, and antiviral medications like systemic acyclovir will be required.

If your newborn has swollen, red eyes, they may have neonatal conjunctivitis and should be seen by an optometrist right away. This condition is potentially very serious, but with prompt treatment, your baby should be fine. Click here for information on this topic.