Sun won’t do much for neonatal jaundice, says specialist

neonatal-jaundicePETALING JAYA: Although everyone could use a little sun in their lives, a paediatrician says the sun rays are ineffective at clearing up jaundice in babies.

Jaundice is a yellowish or greenish pigmentation of the skin and whites of the eyes due to high bilirubin levels and it can cause brain damage among babies if very high levels are left untreated.

Sunlight has been traditionally believed to aid in clearing up jaundice but paediatrician Dr Tan Hui Siu from Hospital Teluk Intan, Perak, has told FMT that the risks involved in this method are not worth the little effect it has.

“Bringing your babies out in the sun in the morning is good but too much exposure to the sun could lead to dehydration and even cause the baby to catch a cold, or worse, the babies may even fall,” she said.

Tan said newborns found to have neonatal jaundice (jaundice within the first 14 days of the infant’s life) were best brought to doctors to assess how high the levels of bilirubin was as well as to receive phototherapy treatment if needed.

“The clinics will have to take a look at the baby and take the baby’s blood as that’s the only way to know how significant the jaundice is. You can’t tell just by looking at your baby.”

She said the blue light used in phototherapy treatments for babies with neonatal jaundice was far more effective than just exposing the baby to sunlight.

Sunlight contains red, orange, yellow, green and blue light rays. Blue light is within the wavelength where bilirubin most highly absorbs light and then changes structure where it can naturally be excreted in urine or bile.

Tan said when it comes to neonatal jaundice and deciding treatment, it was not only the blood levels that matter but also the babies’ risk factors.

“Finding out important risk factors will help determine whether the babies are at a higher risk of suffering from severe jaundice.

Tan revealed that apart from exposure to the sun there had also been cases where parents as well as grandparents decide to reduce neonatal jaundice either by stopping breastfeeding or using traditional medicines, such as pearl powder or special baths.

“All these are not proven and can even cause harm to the babies either because of the method itself or because of the delay in seeking the right treatment, which is getting a blood check and using phototherapy if needed. Phototherapy is very safe.”

Meanwhile, Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) president Dr John Chew agreed with Dr Tan that any baby found to have jaundice should be brought to a medical practitioner.

“There is some truth to the sun being able to help with jaundice but it is safer to see the doctor to have bilirubin levels checked first.

“Also, too much light is not good because the baby could get sunburned among other things.”

According to 2014 statistics from the health ministry, out of more than 500,000 live births, over 60% of the babies suffered from neonatal jaundice.