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Yellow Eye Discharge in Infants

Newborns could have eye problems appear shortly after birth. A common symptom, yellow discharge, may appear after a few days or weeks. In some infants, the discharge will clear and it is normal, however, it may require evaluation if the discharge is yellow. Knowing some of the common causes of the colored discharge may encourage a parent to seek treatment for the baby.

Neonatal Conjunctivitis

During a vaginal birth, a newborn will have contact to bacteria or viruses in the birth canal. This may cause an eye infection called neonatal conjunctivitis. The infection may trigger a yellow discharge as well as redness and swollen eyelids. A mother does not need to have an active virus or bacteria for the child to have exposure. If, however, the mother has an active or known condition, such as Chlamydia, the doctor may recommend a Caesarean section to minimize the baby’s exposure to the condition.

Blocked Tear Duct

The eye has tear ducts near the corners of the eyelids. At birth, some babies have a blocked or poorly formed tear duct. This may cause a yellowish discharge and excessive eye watering. Because these symptoms mimic other eye conditions, a pediatrician will examine the eye and determine if the infant has a blocked tear duct. Initially, the doctor will advice parents to massage the area around the duct a few times a day to induce activity, according to Southwestern Medical Center. The doctor may also recommend eye drops. If these measures fail, the doctor may require an in-office procedure to open the duct. In some cases, a child may require surgical repair of the tear duct if the tear duct did not form properly.


To prevent eye infections, especially those that result from contagions from the mother, the doctor or nurse will put a medication into the newborn’s eye a short time after birth. Doctors use two medications, so the infant will have either an eye drop called silver nitrate or an ointment called erythromycin, says the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Hawaii. Most newborns do not react to the medications, though some babies have an allergic response that causes irritation and possibly a discharge from the eye.

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