Hesperian Health Guides

Antibiotic Eye Treatment

Newborn Babies and Breastfeeding: Medicines

Antibiotic eye ointment and drops are used to protect the newborn baby's eyes from severe infection and blindness that can occur if the mother has gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted infection, during birth. They are also used to treat other eye infections caused by bacteria.

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Use one of these antibiotic ointments with every newborn baby in both eyes to prevent gonorrhea infection:

1% tetracycline OR 0.5% to 1% erythromycin ointment Put a thin line of ointment in each eye, 1 time only, within 2 hours after the birth.

Gently pull down the lower eyelid and squeeze a thin line of ointment along the eye moving from the inside corner outward. Do not let the point of the tube touch the baby’s eye.

If there is no ointment, use one of these kinds of drops to prevent infection:

2.5% solution of povidone-iodine OR 1% solution of silver nitrate

Put 1 drop in each eye, 1 time only, within 2 hours after the birth.
Pull down the lower lid and squeeze 1 drop into the eye. Do not let the dropper touch the eye.

Silver nitrate becomes more concentrated over time as it evaporates – so do not use old silver nitrate. It will burn the baby’s eyes. If in doubt, it is better to avoid using silver nitrate at all.

This page was updated:05 Jan 2024