Phototherapy for Newborn Jaundice

Authored by: Brendan K. Huang , Michael A. Choma

Handbook Ofphotomedicine

Print publication date:  October  2013
Online publication date:  October  2013

Print ISBN: 9781439884690
eBook ISBN: 9781439884706
Adobe ISBN:


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It is common for newborns that are a few days old to have a yel-lowish tinge on their skin. This physical exam finding is known as jaundice. The yellowing is due to accumulation of a chemical known as bilirubin in the skin. For the vast majority of babies, a form of bilirubin called unconjugated bilirubin causes the jaun-dice. Likewise, for the vast majority of babies, the jaundice will resolve without harming the newborn. However, in a small subset of infants, levels of unconjugated bilirubin can rise to dangerous levels and lead to a devastating neurological condition known as kernicterus. For these newborns, phototherapy with light in the blue wavelength range can lower unconjugated bilirubin levels and prevent kernicterus. The story of how millions of newborns came to be prescribed blue-light phototherapy for unconjugated hyper-bilirubinemia started with a simple observation about premature babies who were put in the sunlight. It is a story of how researchers took this observation from bedside to bench with the elucidation of the photochemistry of bilirubin, and back to the bedside with new phototherapeutic interventions based on their findings.

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