Neonatal conjunctivitis is a condition that occurs when a newborn baby's eyes become sore and inflamed, often due to a bacterial or viral infection contracted from the mother during birth. Infants may be more likely to develop neonatal conjunctivitis when their mother is suffering from an active genital infection at the time of birth. Mothers who suffer from chronic genital infections, such as genital herpes, often deliver by C-section to avoid the risk of serious eye disease in the baby. Some genital infections, such as chlamydia or gonorrhea, may be treated with intravenous antibiotics prior to birth. Infants can also develop neonatal conjunctivitis after exposure to normal flora bacteria in a healthy mother's birth canal, and they can develop conjunctivitis due to a blocked tear duct.
Conjunctivitis, or inflammation of the tissues of the lining of the eye, can occur in infants who are exposed to bacteria during birth, usually in the birth canal. Silver nitrate eye drops are often administered to infants born in hospitals, at the time of delivery, in order to prevent eye infection and inflammation. These drops are considered very effective at preventing neonatal conjunctivitis.
Infants who develop neonatal conjunctivitis typically do so within the first two weeks of life. Symptoms include inflammation and soreness of the eye tissue. Bloody, watery, or yellowish-green eye discharge may occur.
Eye inflammation and infection in newborns often occurs due to exposure to bacteria or viruses in the birth canal. Exposure to the herpes virus, in particular, can cause serious eye disease in infants. Expectant mothers are generally advised to receive treatment for any curable genital infections before giving birth. Mothers with chronic viral genital infections may be advised to give birth via C-section, in order to protect the infant. Normal flora bacteria present in a healthy mother's birth canal can also cause neonatal conjunctivitis, so infants born in most hospitals receive eye drops at birth, to prevent eye infection.
Newborns may also experience conjunctivitis due to blockage of the tear duct. Massage of the area between the eyes and the bridge of the nose may help to clear a blocked tear duct. Antibiotics are often administered to help treat the symptoms of a blocked tear duct. If massage does not successfully remove the blockage, surgery may usually be performed after the infant reaches one year of age.
Left untreated, neonatal conjunctivitis can cause serious complications in infants. The eye itself can become inflamed, leading to perforation or scarring of the cornea and even blindness. The infection can also spread to the respiratory tract, causing pneumonia, which can be life-threatening.