Newborn Conjunctivitis

(Ophthalmia Neonatorum; Neonatal Conjunctivitis)

Definition

Newborn conjunctivitis is redness and swelling of the surface of the eye. It usually happens in the first 2 to 4 weeks of life.

Conjunctivitis
Inflamed conjunctiva

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Causes

This condition may be caused by:

  • An irritation in the eye
  • A blocked tear duct
  • Bacteria or viruses passed from the mother during birth, such as:
    • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
    • Bacteria from the skin or digestive system

Risk Factors

Things that raise the risk for newborn conjunctivitis are:

  • The mother has an STI during delivery, such as:
  • The newborn has not had antibiotic eye treatment
  • Membranes are broken early during labor

Symptoms

The most common symptoms of this problem are:

  • Redness and swelling of the eye and inner eyelid
  • Drainage and discharge from the eye

Diagnosis

The doctor will examine the baby's eyes. Diagnosis may be made from the exam. A sample of eye discharge may be taken. This can help the doctor know what is causing the infection.

Treatment

The treatment of newborn conjunctivitis depends on the cause:

Blocked tear duct—may be treated with warm compresses and gentle massage.

Irritation —may improve on its own in a few days.

Bacteria , including chlamydia or gonorrhea—may be treated with antibiotics by IV, mouth, or on the eyes. It depends on the type.

Herpes virus —will be treated with antiviral medicine. It is given by IV and eye drops or ointments.

Prevention

Newborn conjunctivitis may be prevented by:

  • Giving antibiotic eye ointment to infants after birth
  • Treating the mother for STIs before labor and delivery
  • Giving a cesarean section to mothers with active genital herpes sores
RESOURCES:

American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus
http://www.aapos.org

Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
http://www.healthychildren.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children
http://www.aboutkidshealth.ca

Caring for Kids—Canadian Paediatric Society
http://www.caringforkids.cps.ca

REFERENCES:

Conjunctivitis (pink eye) in newborns. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/conjunctivitis/newborns.html. Accessed February 15, 2021.

Honkila M, Renko M, et al. Aetiology of neonatal conjunctivitis evaluated in a population-based setting. Acta Paediatr. 2018;107(5):774-779.

Neonatal conjunctivitis. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/pediatrics/infections-in-neonates/neonatal-conjunctivitis. Accessed February 15, 2021.

Neonatal conjunctivitis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/neonatal-conjunctivitis. Accessed February 15, 2021.

Last reviewed January 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Chelsea Skucek, MSN, BS, RNC-NIC  Last Updated: 2/16/2021