What Parents of Preterm Infants Should Know About Retinopathy of Prematurity

If you have a premature baby, you know that, initially, the road to health can be fraught with obstacles. Retinopathy of prematurity is one of those obstacles. Retinopathy of prematurity, also called ROP, is the formation of abnormal blood vessels in the retina. In the most severe cases, ROP can lead to vision loss and blindness.

In the 1950s, ROP was the most common cause of blindness in children because premature babies were pumped with high levels of oxygen. The medical community eventually realized that high levels of oxygen contributed to the abnormal growth of blood vessels in the eye. Now, their oxygen levels are closely monitored, and the number of children that develop ROP has dropped. 

But, premature babies are still at risk of developing ROP. All infants born before 30 weeks and who weigh less than 3 pounds are screened for it. Early screening and detection mean better outcomes for your baby. About half of the 28,000 babies born prematurely have some form of ROP. Fortunately, most cases resolve on their own without medical intervention.

What is retinopathy of prematurity?

In the womb, the baby’s blood vessels grow from the center of the retina. By the time a baby is born, these vessels are fully formed. But, when the baby is born prematurely, these blood vessels may not have had a chance to develop fully. The term retinopathy refers to the abnormal blood vessel growth in the retina. 

These abnormal blood vessels may leak or rupture, sending blood into the baby’s eyes. In severe cases, it can cause scarring of the retina, which can lead to retinal detachment, a leading cause of blindness. Most cases of ROP are mild and don’t require treatment. Only about 10% of ROP requires medical treatment. 

Risk factors and symptoms of retinopathy of prematurity

The most significant risk factor is the baby’s weight and gestational age at birth. The more premature your baby is, the higher the risk. Other factors that can increase the risk of developing ROP include anemia, respiratory issues, blood transfusions, and breathing difficulties. 

Because there are few signs or symptoms of ROP, all premature babies must get screened for ROP by a pediatric ophthalmologist shortly after birth and every few weeks following birth until the blood vessels have fully matured. However, if you do notice any abnormal eye movements or if their pupils look white after you bring your newborn home, call ABC Children’s Eye Specialists right away.

Treatment options: how to protect your child’s vision 

In most cases, if your child is diagnosed with ROP, they will require regular monitoring to make sure the condition does not progress. If your child’s ROP is severe, one of our expert pediatric ophthalmologists will recommend the best treatment option.

Treatment options include laser treatment, eye surgery, medication, or a combination, which eliminate the abnormal blood vessels so that your child can develop healthy eyes and vision. 

For more information about ROP, call ABC Children’s Eye Specialists, PC, to make an appointment today.

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