Light Therapy for Neonatal Jaundice
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Light therapy, also called phototherapy, exposes infants with jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and eyes, to artificial or natural light to break down the buildup of bilirubin pigment in the blood. Bilirubin is an orange to red pigment produced when red blood cells break down, which causes infants to turn into a yellowish color. Small amounts of bilirubin in the blood are normal, but when there is an accumulation of excess bilirubin pigment, the body deposits the excess bilirubin in the layer of fat beneath the skin. That accumulation of bilirubin causes the skin and the white areas of the eye to appear yellowed, a common symptom of jaundice. Buildup of bilirubin typically occurs when the immature liver of a newborn infant is unable to efficiently breakdown the bilirubin molecule into products that the body can excrete. High levels of bilirubin, a phenomenon called hyperbilirubinemia can be toxic and can lead to a brain dysfunction called kernicterus, which may result in permanent brain damage. The relative simplicity of phototherapy treatment has made effective neonatal jaundice treatment nearly universal, almost completely eliminating the risk of infant brain damage from hyperbilirubinemia.