Pink Eye in Newborns: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

newborn baby
Medically reviewed by Dr. Ola Tarabzuni

Key Takeaways

  • Pink-eye or Conjunctivitis is a bacterial or viral infection characterized by redness, itchy, watery and swollen eyelids.
  • Pink-Eye caused due to allergens or external factors can go away on its own. Bacterial or viral microbes causing conjunctivitis can be contagious and should be treated with proper medical care.

Isn’t it frightful to see your baby’s little shiny eyes getting rosy and teary? It definitely makes a parent puzzled to extend.

Let’s start a journey to unveil some worrisome bugs and other invaders that cause pinkish eyes in toddlers and how to diagnose or treat them. It’s an infection targeting every age from neonates to adults with different sets of causes . It can be bacterial, viral, allergic or environmental, but again, Don’t worry, it’s nothing that can’t be treated.

What Is Pinkeye in Newborn?

Pink Eye, also called “Conjunctivitis”, is the redness/inflammation of the eyes. It is when the conjunctiva, the white part of the eye, gets inflamed red and teary.  A cause can be bacteria, viruses or chemicals.In neonates blocked tear ducts is also a very common cause of conjunctiva and should be treated according to the prescribed medical regimen.

What medicine can I give my newborn for an eye infection? Ask an Online Doctor

What causes pink eyes in babies?

Bacterial Causes

A bacterium “Chlamydia trachomatis” is the cause of inclusion conjunctivitis which can get transferred from mother to fetus if left untreated. It’s good to never let the vaginal discharge and urine burn go unnoticed in pregnancy which can become a potential cause of inclusion conjunctivitis in your baby. It can affect breastfeeding babies as well and the next thing you will know is your baby’s eyes getting teary, inflamed and swollen. Symptoms will show within a week or two after birth.

Another bacteria “Neisseria gonorrhoeae” can be one of the causes of bacterial conjunctivitis often called gonococcal conjunctivitis. This bacteria can cause gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted disease to the mother and can easily be transferred to developing fetuses during the time of pregnancy. Babies can catch this bacteria during vaginal birth and show symptoms right after it with a thick lining of pus in their eyes.

Viral Causes

Herpes simplex virus or cold sores in the carrying women, can get transferred to the baby through the birth canal which causes HSV ( Herpes Simplex Virus)  Conjunctivitis. Symptoms can vary from blisters or a rash on your eyelid to the skin around your eye being swollen and watery. 

Adenovirus is one of the most common causes of pink eye caused by touching or staying in contact with the contaminated surface and touching it back to the eyes. A baby can get infected if the person with this virus coughs and sneezes near him. Once the adenovirus infects the conjunctiva, it causes inflammation, leading to the characteristic symptoms of conjunctivitis, including redness, itching, tearing, and discharge from the eyes.

Chemical Causes

Allergy-causing agents can be one of the most common causes of conjunctivitis in newborns including ragweed pollen, grass, animal dander, and dust mites. It usually goes away without treatment within 36 hours maximum, else it’s better to see a doctor for the ophthalmic eye drops prescription for your little one.  

If newborns or infants get exposed to smoke or pollution can easily get conjunctivitis symptoms and will go away on its own within some hours. It’s better to avoid such exposures for newborns and toddlers. 

Is pink eye normal for newborns? See an Online Doctor

Symptoms of Pink Eye in Babies:

Characteristic symptoms of Pink eyes are as follows:

  • Rosy-eyes/ Redness:  Sclera (the white part of the eyes) and the inner waterlines may appear red and can indicate conjunctivitis.
  • Watery Eyes: Continuous watery eyes and pus lining in the eyelids can be a symptom of pink eyes.
  • Yellowish/Greenish Discharge: Pus-like discharge from the eyes with the water especially after waking up from a nap is the clear indication of infection in the eyes.
  • Itchy Eyes: Other than the normal rubbing and irritation of the eyes in newborns indicate the infection and medical attention.
  • Swollen or crusty EyeLids: Swollen water lines with scales at the corners of eyelids can be easily visible and indicate different types of conjunctivitis. 
  • Lack of sleep and Appetite: Feeling unwell can make babies irritable and loss of appetite with sleep can be observed usually.

How do you treat pink eyes in babies?

The particular treatment regimen for pink eye in newborns will depend on the cause of the infection.

Treatment for Irritants/Pollutants: Usually pink eyes from the irritants e.g pollutants and dust can go on their own without the proper treatment. It’s good to just wipe out the tears and scales buildup from time to time with the clean wet tissue to avoid irritability. Medical attention is only required if any symptom persists for longer.

Treatment for Neonatal Conjunctivitis: Providers, in most of countries and states, provide erythromycin drops to the baby within 2-3 hours of birth. It’s good to get yourself checked before delivery or in early pregnancy if you have gonorrhea or chlamydia to not transmit it further to your baby.

Treatment using different Medications: Antibiotics such as erythromycin as well as antiviral ophthalmic drops are used and prescribed by providers. It is directed to directly instill in the babies’ eyes multiple times in a day.

How contagious is conjunctivitis in babies?

Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis) caused by bacteria and viruses can be contagious.

Bacterial Conjunctivitis is contagious as soon as its symptoms start to appear and starts to get less contagious with the start of the treatment regimen.

Viral conjunctivitis is only contagious till it is asymptomatic and begins to be lesser when the symptoms appear.

The one who is in charge of the baby, mostly the mother, should take care of the baby by practicing proper caution not to infect her own eyes. Sanitizing hands with Isopropyl alcohol will be beneficial in practicing caution that will kill microbes effectively.

How to prevent transmission?

Good hygiene: “Prevention is better than cure,” said Desiderius Erasmus. Good hygiene of the newborns and keeping them at a safe distance from any contaminated area will save you and your infant from great hassle and irritability.

Warm cloth compression: In some cases, using warm compresses on the baby’s closed eyelids can help reduce discomfort and loosen any dried discharge.

Isolation if Contagious: In cases where conjunctivitis may be highly contagious, it’s essential to take precautions to prevent the spread of the infection to other infants or caregivers.

Consult a Doctor

Getting help from caregivers and healthcare providers always helps to identify the type of infection and proper treatment. Any of the conjunctivitis symptoms if persistent should be addressed and consulted by your healthcare provider for proper treatment regimen.

FAQs About Pink Eye in Babies

How serious is a pink eye in babies?

Pink-eye if caused by bacteria or viruses is serious and contagious. It’s not serious only if the cause is external and environmental e.g pollen or dust and will go away on its own.

Can breast milk cure pink eyes in babies?

No, It can not. Breast milk has nothing to do with the treatment of pink eye or conjunctivitis.

How long does newborn eye discharge last?

The duration of the eye discharge can last according to the cause of conjunctivitis.

Is it normal for babies to get conjunctivitis?

It is totally normal for babies to get conjunctivitis if the baby gets exposed to external triggers. e.g dust or pollen. If not and the newborn has pink eyes, It’s good to get medical attention as soon as you can to treat it accordingly.

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