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Preemies go blind from nursery lights
but you can protect your baby
How to protect your premature baby’s eyes from harm caused by fluorescent lighting
Prevent Blindness in Premature Babies
1. If possible, check out the environment and practices in local intensive care nurseries before your baby is born. Some hospitals use dim lighting and covers on the isolettes, and they turn lights off for "rest periods". Choose a hospital that follows these practices.
2. Before your baby is born, tell the hospital staff that you are aware that researchers at the National Eye Institute are not certain that fluorescent lighting is safe for a premature baby’s eyes, and they describe many reasons why it might harm them.
Tell them that you do not want any exposure of your baby’s eyes to fluorescent lighting, whether in the birthing or operating room, or in the nursery. Insist they keep in mind that permanent eye damage could be inflicted in just a few minutes, for all anyone knows.
3. When your baby is born, shield her/his eyes right away with cloth or thick layers of gauze, especially when bright lights are being used for procedures done right after birth to "stabilize" your baby.
4. Request that your baby be placed in an isolette so that you can tape blankets or some other opaque cover over the top and sides of the isolette, in such a way that your baby’s eyes are always shaded.
5. It is likely that your baby will be treated for jaundice by being placed under so-called "bilirubin-lights" which are a bank of fluorescent tubes hung directly over the baby. Be sure that the protective patches or goggles your baby gets in this case cover his/her eyes completely, are well fitted with no light gaps, and well fastened.
6. Make equally sure your baby’s eyes are not exposed to a neighbor baby’s "bili- lights". Flash photography nearby could also be dangerous.
7. Keep your baby’s face always protected from direct sunlight as well as from glaring reflections in the glass and metal of the intensive care nursery equipment. Insist that your baby be in a dark, quiet, and restful area of the nursery, away from traffic.
8. When you take your baby out of the covered isolette to hold him or her, ask the staff to turn the lights off, or at least down. Shield your baby’s eyes if there are any bright lights nearby.
9. Quite likely, your baby will be given an eye exam before leaving the nursery, to look for possible damage to the retina. Insist that a filter be placed on the ophthalmoscope (an instrument with a bright light that the doctor shines into the eye) whenever your baby’s eyes are examined. The filter should remove the violet and blue light with wavelengths below about 500 nanometers. Although the ophtalmoscope light is shone into your baby’s eye only for a short time, it is very bright.
10. Before all eye exams or eye surgery, drops will be placed in your baby’s eyes to dilate the pupils (make them very big to let in more light for observing the retina). Keep your baby’s eyes particularly well shielded from light after those drops until her or his pupils return to normal size -- this can take as long as 18 hours.
Mrs. Watson has made great efforts to inform parents and hospital personnel about the baby-blinding issue. She convinced the preemie nurses in several hospitals to lower the lights and to protect the babies, and she raised concerns about the risks from fluorescent lighting with various agencies in charge of hospital administration and design. She also made many hospital architects aware of the problem.
Prevent Blindness in Premature Babies, Inc. P.O. Box 44792, Madison, Wisconsin 53744-4792
Contact us at retinopathyofprematurity.org