Ophthalmia Neonatorum

Ophthalmia neonatorum is a type of conjunctivitis of the newborn. Conjunctivitis is a redness and soreness (inflammation) of the coverings (membranes) of the eye and eye lids. This usually follows the delivery of an infant whose mother may have an infection of the birth canal. Treatment of conjunctivitis of the newborn is an emergency. It can lead to lasting eye damage or blindness.

CAUSES

There are many infections which may cause ophthalmia neonatorum after birth and usually during the first 28 days of life. These infections include:

  • Gonorrhea. This is the most common bacteria that causes this condition.

  • Chlamydia.

  • Trachomatis.

  • Staphylococci.

  • Streptococci.

  • Herpes virus. This virus often goes away by itself within 24 to 36 hours.

  • Other infections must be treated right away because they can cause blindness.

Other causes in the newborn are:

  • Allergies.

  • Viral infections other than herpes simplex.

  • The antibiotic or silver nitrate drops put into the infant's eye after birth to prevent infection. In such cases, the conjunctivitis is from chemical irritation. It will go away after the drops are stopped.

TREATMENT

  • If caused by germs, this condition is usually treated with antibiotic drops (medications which kill germs). Most often, this is done while your baby is still in the hospital.

  • If caused by bacteria, treatment depends on the specific bacteria found. If the cornea is involved, the baby may be hospitalized for more intensive treatment.

  • If caused by Gonorrheal infection, babies need to be hospitalized and looked at to see if the bacteria has spread to the rest of the body. Treatment is very aggressive. It may involve medicine by mouth, injection or IV treatment if there is any sign that the infection has spread to the rest of the body.

  • If caused by Chlamydial infection, eye drops will be used and the baby may also need antibiotics. The baby's mother and her sexual partner(s) will also need to be treated.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

  • If antibiotic drops are prescribed for home care, follow your caregivers instructions. Use for the full length of time suggested.

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before and after applying eye drops. Be careful not to touch the dropper to the infant's eyes. Do not touch your hands to the infected eye.

  • Non-prescription eye drops may be used for viral conjunctivitis.

  • Allergic conjunctivitis may require steroid eye drops. However, do not use them unless prescribed by your caregiver.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • Your infant develops increased swelling or drainage from the eye.

  • The eyes do not seem to be getting better.

  • Your child develops a temperature, problems with eating or becomes fussier than usual.