Newborns can develop a number of condition that alarm new parents but have little or no medical significance. A whitish collection of mucous-looking material that accumulates in the corners of newborn eyes falls into this category. Several factors can cause eye discharge, which might look serious but usually is not related to infection or a serious eye problem.
Right after birth, most hospitals put an antibacterial ointment in a newborn's eyes to protect against infection that can pass to the infant in the vaginal tract during delivery. This might cause slight irritation to the eye, causing a collection of white material in the corner of the eye. This type of chemical irritation should clear up within 24 to 36 hours, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. If you have a chlamydia, herpes or gonorrhea infection and your baby doesn't receive antibiotic eyedrops after birth, she could develop neonatal conjunctivitis, a potentially serious eye infection that requires treatment to prevent vision loss. Neonatal conjunctivitis also causes eye discharge.
Blocked Tear Ducts
Your baby's eyes make tears to keep the eye moist. In around 20 percent of newborns, the tear ducts don't open immediately after birth, according to ophthalmologist Deborah VanderVeen, M.D., of Children's Hospital Boston. Tears run down the baby's cheeks and might accumulate in the corners of the eye overnight while he sleeps. He might wake up with a collection of whitish material in the corner of the eye. Blocked tear ducts normally open by three weeks of age, according to pediatrician and author William Sears, M.D.
Treating Blocked Tear Ducts
To help the tear duct open, use gentle massage on the lacrimal sac, the inner lower corner of the baby's eye. Massage toward the nose six times whenever you do a diaper change, Dr. Sears suggests. Keep the eye clean by removing mucus gently with a soft, clean cloth and warm water. Blocked tear ducts don't interfere with a baby's vision in any way. If yellowish discharge persists, your doctor might prescribe antibiotic drops to clear up any infection..
In 95 percent of cases, the membrane covering the tear duct opens by age 10 to 12 months, Dr. VanderVeen states. If the tear duct doesn't open, a simple procedure done under general anesthesia can open it. Some doctors prefer to open the duct at a younger age as an in-office procedure. Probing the ducts cures the problem 90 percent of the time. If probing doesn't work, your doctor might place small tubes in the duct to keep it open.