Over half of babies are born with jaundice, which is a condition that causes an infant’s skin and the whites of their eyes to appear yellow. Jaundice occurs in a newborn whose liver is not fully developed enough to get rid of the toxin called bilirubin, a brownish-yellow chemical.
In most jaundice cases, infants are treated with light therapy, also known as phototherapy. This treatment includes the use of blue lights to help change the bilirubin from a toxic form into a water soluble, non-toxic form that can exit the body. However, when jaundice is untreated, a rare but extreme case of jaundice can occur, which is called kernicterus.
What Exactly Is Kernicterus?
Kernicterus develops when jaundice goes untreated in a newborn. It happens when bilirubin builds up in the bloodstream, eventually spreading to the brain. It is a progressive type of brain damage that can cause infants permanent brain damage, hearing loss, issues moving their eyes, trouble moving altogether, and learning disabilities.
Because kernicterus occurs when jaundice is not caught and treated early on, parents of newborns need to be aware of some kernicterus signs and symptoms to look out for, including:
Early stage symptoms
- Yellow or orange skin (extreme jaundice)
- Always fussy
- Will not breastfeed or even bottle feed
- Excessive fatigue
Mid stage symptoms
- Has an arched back
- Has high-pitched cries
- Bulging soft spots
Late stage symptoms
- Has poor muscle tone
- Movement issues
- Speech difficulties
- High-frequency hearing loss
Some other indicators of kernicterus that a doctor should consider are if the baby suffered bruising or bleeding on the head from the improper use of forceps and vacuums during birth or if the infant was premature or more than two weeks early. In addition to the above listed symptoms, a baby with kernicterus can also suffer cerebral palsy or death due to severe brain damage.
When a doctor fails to diagnose kernicterus or fails to perform a blood test to look for high bilirubin levels, an innocent baby may suffer due to a negligent doctor’s lack of actions. Early detection and prevention are the best treatment for kernicterus. When a doctor fails to identify extreme jaundice or delays treatment of jaundice, children can develop kernicterus and suffer.
Doctors who are negligent should be held liable for the injuries and pain they have caused to injured children and their families. If you believe your baby’s birth injury in Kentucky was the result of a doctor’s negligence, please call the Northern Kentucky birth injury lawyers at the Law Office of Schachter, Hendy & Johnson to file a medical malpractice claim. You can reach us at (859) 578-4444 or (888) 606-5297 for a complimentary, confidential consultation today.