Ophthalmia Neonatorum (Neonatal Conjuctivitis)

Ophthalmia Neonatorum;


Ophthalmia neonatorum is a condition that affects newborns, primarily characterized by inflammation of the eyes within the first month of life. This condition requires prompt medical attention to prevent potential complications and ensure the baby’s eye health.

What is Ophthalmia Neonatorum?

Ophthalmia neonatorum, also known as neonatal conjunctivitis, is an eye infection that occurs in newborns. It is typically caused by exposure to bacteria or viruses during childbirth, particularly if the mother has a sexually transmitted infection (STI) such as gonorrhea or chlamydia.

Causes of Ophthalmia Neonatorum :

Ophthalmia neonatorum, or neonatal conjunctivitis, can be caused not only by bacterial or viral infections but also by exposure to certain chemicals during childbirth.

Bacterial Causes

  1. Neisseria gonorrhoeae: This bacterium is a common cause of ophthalmia neonatorum, particularly in cases where the mother is infected with gonorrhea. During childbirth, the bacteria can be passed to the baby as it passes through the birth canal.
  2. Chlamydia trachomatis: Chlamydia infection in the mother can also lead to ophthalmia neonatorum in the newborn. Similar to gonorrhea, transmission occurs during childbirth when the baby comes into contact with infected cervical secretions.

Viral Causes

  1. Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV): Neonatal herpes, caused by HSV, can result in ophthalmia neonatorum if the mother is infected with the virus. HSV infection during childbirth can lead to serious complications in the newborn, including eye infections.

Chemical Causes

  1. Antiseptic Eye Solutions: Improper use of antiseptic eye solutions during childbirth can irritate the newborn’s eyes, leading to chemical conjunctivitis. It is crucial to use these solutions according to guidelines to prevent adverse reactions.

Other Causes

  1. Non-Specific Bacterial Infections: While Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Chlamydia trachomatis are the primary bacterial causes, other bacteria present in the birth canal can also lead to ophthalmia neonatorum if proper preventive measures are not taken.
  2. Lack of Eye Prophylaxis: Inadequate or absent administration of antibiotic eye prophylaxis shortly after birth increases the risk of ophthalmia neonatorum. This preventive measure is crucial in reducing the transmission of bacteria from mother to newborn.
  3. Poor Hygiene Practices During Birth: Improper hygiene practices during childbirth, such as inadequate handwashing or the use of contaminated instruments, can contribute to the transmission of bacteria or viruses to the newborn’s eyes.
  4. Maternal Infection Status: The maternal infection status plays a significant role in the likelihood of ophthalmia neonatorum. Pregnant women who are unaware of their infections or do not receive proper prenatal care and treatment for STIs are at higher risk of transmitting infections to their newborns.

Signs and Symptoms of Ophthalmia Neonatorum:

Ophthalmia neonatorum, or neonatal conjunctivitis, presents with various signs and symptoms that require prompt medical attention to prevent complications and ensure the baby’s eye health.

  1. Redness of the Eyes: One of the primary signs of ophthalmia neonatorum is redness or inflammation of the eyes. The whites of the eyes may appear pink or red, indicating irritation or infection.
  2. Swelling of the Eyelids: Infected newborns may exhibit swelling of the eyelids, which can range from mild to severe. Swollen eyelids can interfere with the baby’s ability to open their eyes comfortably.
  3. Eye Discharge: Another common symptom is the presence of discharge from the eyes. This discharge can vary in consistency, appearing watery, mucous-like, or even pus-filled. The discharge may cause crusting around the eyelids, especially after sleep.
  4. Sensitivity to Light: Newborns with ophthalmia neonatorum may display sensitivity to light, known as photophobia. They may squint or avoid bright lights due to discomfort caused by inflammation and irritation of the eyes.
  5. Excessive Tearing: Infected babies may experience excessive tearing or tearing that is out of the ordinary. This occurs as the eyes attempt to flush out irritants or infection, resulting in increased tear production.
  6. Difficulty Opening Eyes: Due to the discomfort caused by inflammation and discharge, newborns with ophthalmia neonatorum may have difficulty fully opening their eyes. They may keep their eyes closed or squint to minimize discomfort.
  7. Cloudy Cornea (in severe cases): In severe cases of untreated ophthalmia neonatorum, the cornea—the clear outer layer of the eye—may become cloudy or hazy. This cloudiness can affect vision and may lead to long-term complications if not addressed promptly.

Risk Factors :

Neonatal conjunctivitis, also known as ophthalmia neonatorum, can occur in newborns due to various risk factors. Here are the key risk factors associated with neonatal conjunctivitis:

  1. Maternal Infection with Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs): Pregnant women infected with sexually transmitted bacteria or viruses such as Neisseria gonorrhoeae or Chlamydia trachomatis are at a higher risk of transmitting the infection to their newborns during childbirth. These bacteria can cause severe eye infections in newborns if appropriate preventive measures are not taken.
  2. Lack of Prenatal Care: Inadequate prenatal care can contribute to a higher risk of neonatal conjunctivitis. Prenatal care allows healthcare providers to screen for and treat maternal infections, reducing the likelihood of transmission to the newborn.
  3. Premature Rupture of Membranes: Premature rupture of membranes (when the amniotic sac breaks before the onset of labor) increases the risk of neonatal conjunctivitis. Exposure to vaginal secretions containing infectious agents during prolonged rupture increases the likelihood of transmission to the baby during childbirth.
  4. Prolonged Labor: Prolonged labor or difficult deliveries may increase the risk of neonatal conjunctivitis due to prolonged exposure of the baby’s eyes to the vaginal canal. This extended contact increases the likelihood of transmission of infectious agents from the mother to the newborn.
  5. Absence of Routine Eye Care for Newborns: Failure to provide routine eye care for newborns, including prophylactic administration of antibiotic eye ointment shortly after birth, can increase the risk of neonatal conjunctivitis. Prophylactic treatment helps prevent infection and reduces the likelihood of complications.
  6. Maternal Hygiene Practices: Poor maternal hygiene practices during childbirth, such as inadequate handwashing or the use of contaminated instruments, can increase the risk of neonatal conjunctivitis. Proper hygiene measures are essential to reduce the transmission of infectious agents to the newborn’s eyes.
  7. Maternal History of Previous Neonatal Conjunctivitis: Mothers who have previously given birth to infants with neonatal conjunctivitis may be at higher risk of transmitting the infection to subsequent newborns. Close monitoring and preventive measures are necessary in such cases to minimize the risk of recurrence.

Treatment of Ophthalmia Neonatorum:

Babies suspected of having neonatal conjunctivitis should undergo a thorough clinical assessment to evaluate possible complications. In cases where confirmatory tests for the infection are unavailable but there is a high suspicion of neonatal conjunctivitis, treatment targeting both Chlamydia trachomatis and Neisseria gonorrhoeae should be initiated promptly to prevent complications.

Gonococcal Ophthalmia Neonatorum

Immediate initiation of treatment, along with hospitalization, is crucial upon establishing the diagnosis of gonococcal ophthalmia neonatorum. The first-line treatment of choice is a single dose of ceftriaxone, administered at 25 to 50 mg/kg/24 hr, with a maximum dose of 125 mg. Frequent eye irrigation with sterile isotonic saline is recommended as an adjunct therapy. An alternative regimen involves administering cefotaxime at a dose of 100 mg/kg as a single dose.

Chlamydial Conjunctivitis:

In cases where chlamydial conjunctivitis is confirmed, oral erythromycin is the preferred treatment regimen, administered at a dose of 50 mg/kg/24 hr for two weeks. Topical erythromycin can also be used as adjunct therapy. However, it is important to note that oral erythromycin is not recommended for asymptomatic babies born to mothers infected with Chlamydia trachomatis due to the increased risk of developing pyloric stenosis.

Secondary Conjunctivitis:

Conjunctivitis secondary to staphylococcal species and pseudomonas requires treatment with systemic antibiotics. The choice of antibiotics should be guided by the susceptibility profile of the causative organisms.

1. Herpes Simplex Conjunctivitis:

Patients with herpes simplex conjunctivitis should receive treatment with systemic antiviral therapy. Additionally, topical ophthalmic drugs such as 0.15% ganciclovir or 1% trifluridine should be administered for a duration of 14 days. It is essential to consult an ophthalmologist for further management in these cases.

Management in Asymptomatic Babies

Asymptomatic babies born to mothers infected with Chlamydia trachomatis require close monitoring for the appearance of clinical symptoms suggestive of chlamydia ocular or respiratory infections. However, oral erythromycin is not recommended in these babies due to the risk of developing pyloric stenosis. Vigilant observation and follow-up are crucial in this population to detect and manage any potential complications promptly.


Neonatal conjunctivitis, if left untreated or inadequately managed, can lead to various complications that may impact the baby’s eye health and overall well-being. It is essential to recognize these potential complications to ensure timely intervention and prevent long-term sequelae. Here are some of the complications associated with neonatal conjunctivitis:

  1. Corneal Scarring: Severe cases of untreated conjunctivitis can result in corneal scarring, which may impair vision and lead to permanent visual impairment or blindness. Corneal scarring occurs due to inflammation and damage to the corneal tissue, compromising its transparency and optical properties.
  2. Conjunctival Granulomas: Chronic or recurrent inflammation of the conjunctiva can lead to the formation of conjunctival granulomas. These granulomas are nodular lesions composed of inflammatory cells and fibrous tissue and can cause discomfort and irritation to the baby’s eyes.
  3. Eyelid Abnormalities: Prolonged inflammation and scarring of the eyelids may result in eyelid abnormalities such as entropion (inward turning of the eyelid) or ectropion (outward turning of the eyelid). These abnormalities can cause corneal exposure, irritation, and increased risk of corneal injury.
  4. Systemic Spread of Infection: In severe cases, untreated neonatal conjunctivitis can lead to the systemic spread of infection, resulting in systemic illness or sepsis in the newborn. Bacterial or viral pathogens causing conjunctivitis may disseminate through the bloodstream, affecting other organs and tissues in the body.
  5. Vision Impairment: If left untreated, severe conjunctivitis can lead to vision impairment or loss of vision in the affected eye(s). Corneal scarring, inflammation of intraocular structures, or amblyopia (lazy eye) can result in permanent visual deficits if not addressed promptly.
  6. Recurrence of Infection: Inadequately treated or recurrent cases of neonatal conjunctivitis may predispose the baby to repeated episodes of infection, leading to chronic conjunctivitis or exacerbation of underlying ocular conditions. Recurrent infections require careful management and may necessitate additional treatment measures.
  7. Psychosocial Impact: Neonatal conjunctivitis and its complications can have psychosocial implications for the affected baby and their family. Vision impairment or disfigurement of the eyes may affect the child’s self-esteem and quality of life, while the emotional burden of managing a chronic eye condition can be challenging for parents and caregivers.


Preventing ophthalmia neonatorum involves several measures, including prenatal screening and treatment for sexually transmitted infections in pregnant women, administration of antibiotic eye ointment to all newborns shortly after birth (to prevent infection from occurring), and ensuring proper hygiene practices during childbirth.

In summary, ophthalmia neonatorum is a preventable condition that can have serious consequences if not promptly treated.

• Read more :

  1. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
  2. Health benefits of Ashwagandha

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top
Modern HealthMe