Phototherapy is used to treat hyperbulirubinemia, a common condition in infants, referring to an increase in the amount of bilirubin in the blood. It is characterized by jaundice, a yellowish discoloration of the skin. Phototherapy immerses the patient in a bath of fluorescent light, which breaks up and disperses the excess bilirubin. In the past, clinicians relied on phototherapy units which resembled tanning tables, with the infant placed on a surface illuminated by overhead fluorescent lights. This required the infant to be isolated for long periods of time, with protection pads to shield the eyes from the light.
With the development of flexible fluorescent panels, it was now possible to wrap the infant in the panel during treatment, without eye protection, and still allow the parent to hold the child during part of all of the therapy.
The phototherapy blanket is an alternative to standard phototherapy, which requires the infant to lie under fluorescent bulbs in a hospital incubator while wearing eye patches to prevent possible damage from the light rays. Infants' eyes are not exposed to light under BiliBlanket therapy, and they can be clothed. The blanket also provides more even lighting.
The Ohmeda Biliblanket Plus consists of a halogen lamp in a vented metal housing, which also contains a small fan to disperse heat generated by the lamp. Illumination from the halogen bulb travels through 2400 optical fibers encased in a 1-m-long flexible plastic tube. The optical fibers terminate in a 10 × 15-cm woven pad about 0.64 cm thick. Because the light source is remote, the fiber optic pad generates no heat.
The Ohmeda BiliBlanket is similar to the Healthdyne Wallaby, but has a broader fluorescent panel and a long flexible connector tube that attaches to the main unit. Instead of a 2-position switch, a regulator knob allows incremental increases in the luminescence delivered to the panel. A cooling fan and safety thermostat protect the light source and fiberoptic cable from overheating, and an air flow failure alarm alerts users before overheating occurs.