A subconjunctival hemorrhage is a medical condition that a newborn baby can suffer after an especially traumatic birth or an instance of medical malpractice during delivery. This particular kind of hemorrhage – or burst blood vessel – happens between the whites of a newborn's eye and the conjunctiva, which covers and protects them. There, blood vessels are especially small and fragile, making ruptures happen more easily. Subconjunctival hemorrhages can happen in people of any age and are often one of the results of significant internal traumas, like vomiting or even sneezing. In newborns, however, they frequently occur during difficult deliveries when contractions put too much pressure and physical stress on the baby.
Symptoms of Subconjunctival Hemorrhages
Out of all of the birth injuries that can happen, subconjunctival hemorrhages are the easiest for a doctor to see and diagnose.
When blood vessels in the eye rupture, blood escapes into the eye, behind the thin clear veil of the conjunctiva and the whites of the eye. This tints the whites of the eye red with blood as it seeps into the space between the two, forming a red patch or covering the entire eye white within a few hours. The red color is made bright by the transparent layer of the conjunctiva, making the eye look like it is bleeding internally.
Even though a subconjunctival hemorrhage looks distressing and very serious, it is usually a painless and relatively harmless condition that can last for a few weeks. However, in some circumstances, the damage to the eye is far more severe than normal and can lead to permanent eye damage. Additionally, it can be a sign of delivery trauma that could have caused other birth injuries, like facial paralysis, making subconjunctival hemorrhages a potential harbinger of other medical issues.
Causes of Subconjunctival Hemorrhages
Generally, subconjunctival hemorrhages happen when the newborn suffers trauma to the eye or goes through excessive pressure during delivery. These can happen in a variety of circumstances, many of which are completely avoidable or curable by doctors and other healthcare professionals:
- Difficult labor. A difficult labor means there are more contractions than normal, many of which can be more intense than in a typical delivery. These, together with the long time that the newborn spends inside the highly-compact birth canal, put more pressure than normal on the newborn, which can culminate in a subconjunctival hemorrhage in one or both of its eyes.
- Assisted delivery techniques. Difficult labors often mean doctors decide to push it along by using assisted delivery techniques, including a forceps tool or a vacuum-assisted delivery. Using either one of these techniques, however, put much more strain on the newborn's head than would otherwise be the case. This stress and pressure greatly increase the chances of the child suffering a subconjunctival hemorrhage during birth, particularly if these techniques are done improperly, negligently, or recklessly in an attempt to speed up the birth. Additionally, poor or negligent use of these techniques can mean the baby gets poked in the eye during the procedure, leading to a subconjunctival hemorrhage.
- Asphyxia. Finally, newborns in difficult deliveries can lose their supply of oxygen during the process. This can happen if the umbilical cord becomes knotted or tangled, or if the pressure that the newborn goes through on its way through the birth canal compresses its fragile body in a strange way that impacts its lungs or ability to breathe. This can put the newborn in a highly distressed state, increasing its internal distress levels which can cause the child's most fragile blood vessels – those in its eyes – to burst in a subconjunctival hemorrhage.
Conditions Caused by Subconjunctival Hemorrhages
Subconjunctival hemorrhages are rarely serious medical conditions, in themselves. While they look alarming, especially in a newborn baby, they are typically harmless indicators of a past trauma that was strong enough to impact the least durable blood vessels in the body. Subconjunctival hemorrhages usually go away on their own in a week or two without any lasting impact on the newborn. Occasionally, when they are severe, artificial tears are used to reduce any itchiness or pain that the newborn child is going through.
However, if left untreated and unmonitored, subconjunctival hemorrhages can continue to get worse. If this continues unchecked, it can lead to permanent vision loss or visibility problems in the eyes that are affected.
Subconjunctival Hemorrhages as a Sign of Other Birth Injuries
Because subconjunctival hemorrhages frequently occur when a newborn was put under a lot of pressure and trauma during birth, they are often used as a sign of how bad the delivery process was, for the child. This turns subconjunctival hemorrhages into an indicator of other birth injuries that are also caused by significant trauma during the delivery process, like an intracranial or a subarachnoid hemorrhage, or perinatal asphyxia, which have serious and potentially life-endangering symptoms.
Doctors who do not follow up on subconjunctival hemorrhages are often putting newborn babies at risk of serious medical conditions that can significantly alter their quality of life for years or even their entire lifetimes. As a result, not monitoring the development of a subconjunctival hemorrhage can be a sign of medical malpractice, as can the fact that malpractice happened in the delivery room, resulting in birth trauma that led to serious perinatal injuries.
Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian
Typically, subconjunctival hemorrhages are not serious medical issues that can drastically impact a child's life, despite their alarming appearance. However, these types of hemorrhages are an excellent way for doctors to see how difficult the birth process was and how much pressure the newborn was under as it passed through the birth canal. If there was a subconjunctival hemorrhage, it is a sign that other medical conditions could also be present. Doctors who do not follow up on this condition, therefore, are leaving potentially serious issues unexamined.
This can amount to medical malpractice because it can have a huge impact on the quality of life that your child has in its future. Contact us online or call our medical malpractice attorney at (800) 529-6162 for a free consultation.