Newborn Conjunctivitis

Ophthalmia neonatorum is conjunctivitis that occurs in a newborn. Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the surface or covering of the eye. Any eye infection that occurs in the first month of a baby’s life can be classified as ophthalmia neonatorum.

  • Causes

    The cause of the conjunctivitis may be an irritation in the eye or a blocked tear duct. In some cases the irritation may be from the antibiotic given after delivery.

    Bacteria can also cause an infection in the eye. The most common types of bacteria that cause infection in the infant’s eye come from the mother’s birth canal, and are passed to the infant during delivery. These infections can include:


    • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)—The most common bacteria passed to infants during delivery are due to STDs from the mother’s birth canal. If untreated, many of these infections can cause serious damage to the infant’s eye. STDs that can cause eye damage include:

      • Chlamydia
      • Gonorrhea

      • The virus that causes oral and
        genital herpes

    • Skin bacteria such as
      Staphylococcus aureus

    • Bacteria from the mother’s gastrointestinal tract, such as
      Pseudomonas
      or
      Klebsiella

  • Definition

    Ophthalmia neonatorum is conjunctivitis that occurs in a newborn. Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the surface or covering of the eye. Any eye infection that occurs in the first month of a baby’s life can be classified as ophthalmia neonatorum.

    Conjunctivitis
    Inflamed conjunctiva
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

  • Diagnosis

    If your baby’s pediatrician suspects ophthalmia neonatorum, an eye examination will be done. The doctor will look at your baby’s eyes to check for anything that may be irritating the eye, and to see if any damage has occurred. The doctor may also want to take a sample of any discharge to determine what type of bacteria or virus is causing the infection.

  • Prevention

    Since the potential for serious eye damage to the infant is so great, it is standard treatment in US hospitals to give infants antibiotic eye drops or ointment right after delivery. This helps prevent the development of an eye infection even if the mother shows no symptoms of infection. Prevention methods for ophthalmia neonatorum include:

    • Antibiotic eye ointment given to the infant after birth
    • Treating the mother for any STDs prior to labor and delivery

    • A
      cesarean section
      for mothers with active genital herpes lesions

    An open, honest relationship with your doctor is important during your pregnancy. Disclosure of your full medical history can help protect your baby from infection.

  • Risk Factors

    The biggest risk factor for developing ophthalmia neonatorum is a maternal infection or STD at the time of delivery. The mother may not have any symptoms during delivery and still be able to transmit the infection. If you are pregnant, it is important to discuss any STDs that you have or had in the past. You and your doctor can develop a plan to protect your baby from infections during delivery.

  • Symptoms

    The most common symptoms are redness and swelling of the conjunctiva in the newborn. If your baby has this or any of these other symptoms, see your baby's pediatrician:

    • Drainage and discharge from the eye; it may be watery or thick and pus-like
    • Swollen eyelids

  • Treatment

    The treatment of ophthalmia neonatorum depends on the cause: