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Gray Baby Syndrome: What You Need to Know

Gray Baby Syndrome or GBS is a rare, but a life-threatening condition that can develop in infants and premature babies up to the age of 2 years. This happens as a result of exposure to the overdose of the chloramphenicol antibiotic administered either to the mother or the infant. It leads to the cardiovascular collapse in babies as the drug accumulates in the bloodstream because the babies do not have the liver enzymes that are required to metabolize or break down the high dosage of the drug. 

The other names of this condition are Gray Syndrome from Chloramphenicol Administration in Newborn, Chloramphenicol Toxicity in Neonates and Chloramphenicol Toxicity in Newborns. This syndrome usually appears after birth and has been found to occur equally in both the sexes. The vulnerability is high among the newborns but children up to the age of 2 years are at risk of getting this syndrome. 


If the drug accumulates in the bloodstream in toxic levels, and the baby develops Gray Baby Syndrome, the symptoms show typically within 2 to 9 days of beginning treatment. Although the symptoms vary, you may notice grayish skin colour, limp body, blue lips and skin, low blood pressure, hypothermia, abdominal swelling, vomiting, green stool, irregular heartbeat, and difficulty breathing. If you find your baby suffering from any gray baby syndrome symptom after exposure to chloramphenicol, you should seek immediate medical attention. Gray baby syndrome can prove fatal within hours if left untreated.

Diagnosis and Treatment

The doctors can diagnose the gray baby syndrome after a thorough physical examination and by the observation of symptoms like the blue lips and grayish color of skin and with the knowledge of exposure to chloramphenicol. The baby is most likely to be hospitalized, if the diagnosis for gray baby syndrome is positive, for close monitoring.

The gray baby syndrome is treatable if the treatment is sought at the first sign of illness. The first course of treatment is to discontinue the administration of chloramphenicol. If you are taking the medication, you will need to stop breastfeeding your baby.

Some of the methods of treatment are: -

1. Exchange transfusion – It is a lifesaving procedure that requires the removal of some of the baby’s blood and replacing it with some freshly donated blood or plasma, using a catheter.

2. Haemodialysis – A dialysis machine is used to cleanse the toxins from the child’s bloodstream, balancing sodium and potassium levels, and controlling the child’s blood pressure.

Other than these two methods, the oxygen therapy can be given to the child in order to improve breathing and deliver oxygen to the body. Hemoperfusion is another method similar to dialysis for removal of toxins while monitoring the blood during the treatment.  


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