Bili lights are a type of light therapy (phototherapy) that is used to treat newborn jaundice. Jaundice is a yellow coloring of the skin and eyes. It is caused by too much of a yellow substance called bilirubin. Bilirubin is created when the body replaces old red blood cells with new ones.
Phototherapy for jaundice
Phototherapy involves shining fluorescent light from the bili lights on bare skin. A specific wavelength of light can break down bilirubin into a form that the body can get rid of through the urine and stools. The light looks blue.
The newborn is placed under the lights without clothes or just wearing a diaper.
The eyes are covered to protect them from the bright light.
The baby is turned frequently.
The health care team carefully notes the infant's temperature, vital signs, and responses to the light. They also note how long the treatment lasted and the position of the light bulbs.
The baby may become dehydrated from the lights. Fluids may be given through a vein during treatment.
Blood tests are done to check the bilirubin level. When the levels have dropped enough, phototherapy is complete.
Some infants receive phototherapy at home. In this case, a nurse visits daily and draws a sample of blood for testing.
Treatment depends on three things:
Concentration of bilirubin in the blood
Newborn's age (in hours)
In severe cases of increased bilirubin in a low birth weight newborn that is younger than 24 hours old, an exchange transfusion may be done instead. When the bilirubin level is very high, an exchange transfusion may be the best option.
Maheshwari A, Carlo WA. Digestive system disorders. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 96.
Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.