Chlamydial Conjunctivitis, Acquired At Birth (Newborn)

Adult hand wiping infant's eyelid with cloth.

Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Some women may not know that they have this infection. If a pregnant woman has undiagnosed chlamydia, she can pass it to her child during birth. This is called chlamydia infection acquired at birth. Symptoms can appear in a newborn in the first few weeks after birth.

Chlamydia often causes an eye infection called conjunctivitis. The clear covering of the eye and inner lining of the eyelids become red and irritated. The eyelids will be swollen. The eyes will have a watery discharge. This discharge may be white, yellow, or green. Most newborns are given an antibiotic ointment in their eyes after birth. But this does not prevent chlamydial conjunctivitis.

Chlamydial conjunctivitis is treated with antibiotics taken by mouth (oral). In most cases, symptoms go away a few days after the medicine is started.

Home care

Medicines

An antibiotic will likely be prescribed to treat the infection. Follow all instructions for giving the medicine to your baby. Be sure to give all of the medicine, even if your baby no longer has symptoms. Artificial tears may also be prescribed to ease eye discomfort.

General care

  • Wash your hands well with soap and warm water before and after caring for your child.

  • Use warm water or artificial tears to rinse the eye every few hours or so while the child is awake. Gently wipe crusts or discharge away from the eyes. Use a wet swab or warm, damp washcloth. When cleaning the eye, wipe from the nose to the outer eye. Use a different cloth for each eye.

  • Try to prevent your baby from rubbing his or her eyes.

  • To help soothe eye inflammation, you may apply a cool washcloth on the eye. Use a different cloth for each eye.

  • Wash your baby’s sheets and clothes separately from the family’s laundry. This will help prevent spread of the infection.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child’s healthcare provider as advised.

Special note to parents

Talk your healthcare provider about getting tested and treated for your own chlamydia infection.

When to seek medical advice

Call your child's healthcare provider right away if:

  • Your child has a fever (see Fever and children below)

  • Your child has eyelid redness, swelling, and discharge for more than 2 days after starting treatment.

  • Your child has ongoing signs of infection, such as redness or swelling of the eyelids or increased drainage from the eyes.

  • Your child is breathing very fast or having trouble breathing.

  • Your child has a cough that won’t go away.

  • Your child is not feeding well or not gaining weight.

  • Your child appears very ill.

Fever and children

Always use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Never use a mercury thermometer.

For infants and toddlers, be sure to use a rectal thermometer correctly. A rectal thermometer may accidentally poke a hole in (perforate) the rectum. It may also pass on germs from the stool. Always follow the product maker’s directions for proper use. If you don’t feel comfortable taking a rectal temperature, use another method. When you talk to your child’s healthcare provider, tell him or her which method you used to take your child’s temperature.

Here are guidelines for fever temperature. Ear temperatures aren’t accurate before 6 months of age. Don’t take an oral temperature until your child is at least 4 years old.

Infant under 3 months old:

  • Ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead (temporal artery) temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

  • Armpit temperature of 99°F (37.2°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider

© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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