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Sticky eye in babies

Sticky eye is the result of a blocked tear duct. Newborn babies may have a white or yellow discharge at the inner corners of their eyes. Sometimes there is so much discharge that the baby’s eyes can appear ‘glued’ shut. Most cases are not serious and can be treated at home. But, if the condition doesn’t get better, it might be caused by bacteria that the child picked up during birth and may need medical treatment.

What causes it?

Newborns get sticky eye when a tear duct is blocked, usually with amniotic fluid or skin cells. The discharge is a bit sticky and can make the eyelids stick together, hence the name.

Is it serious?

Sticky eye is usually not serious and you can treat it at home. It is not the same as conjunctivitis (pinkeye), but it can lead to an infection if it persists. In rare cases, sticky eye can be caused by bacteria your baby picked up during birth.

Can I prevent it?

You cannot prevent it as the condition occurs when your newborn is born with a blocked tear duct. These tear ducts generally open up and begin draining normally within the first few months of life. If the tear duct doesn’t open naturally, it may need to be opened with a fine probe under anaesthetic when your baby is about 12 months old.

How do I know if my child has sticky eye?

Sticky eye is characterised by a sticky yellow or white discharge in the corner of your baby’s eye(s). Sometimes the discharge can crust over and your baby’s eyes might be “glued” shut. It usually appears within the first 24 hours after birth.

How do I treat sticky eye?

Most sticky eye can be treated at home. Use a cotton ball dampened in saline solution to wipe your child’s eye gently from the inner corner to the outer corner. Use a new dampened cotton ball for each wipe. Once you have bathed the eye open, use a dry cotton ball to dry it, from the inner corner to the outer corner, the same way you bathed it. You may need to do this each time you feed your baby if their sticky eye is severe. If it is caused by bacteria your baby will probably need to be treated with antibiotic eye drops. Your doctor will also be able to show you how to massage the tear duct to help the tears drain away rather than accumulate.

Should I call the doctor?

If your baby’s sticky eye gets worse or doesn’t get better with at-home treatment, call your doctor, as this could be a sign that it is the result of a bacterial infection and may need antibiotic treatment.

What you need to know:

  • Sticky eye is a common condition in newborn babies caused by a blocked tear duct.
  • You can usually take care of sticky eye at home by bathing the affected eye(s) with saline solution.
  • Sometimes sticky eye gets worse and needs to be treated with antibiotics.

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