By Lauren R. Rosecan, M.D., Ph.D., F.A.C.S. –
Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is an eye disease that occurs in a small percentage of premature babies where abnormal blood vessels grow on the retina — the light-sensitive layer of cells lining the back of the eye that help us see. The image at left shows examples of normal and abnormal blood vessel growth.
ROP occurs more frequently in smaller babies with very low birth weight or of an earlier gestational age. For instance, a 28-week premature baby has a greater risk of developing ROP than a 32-week premature baby.
In some cases, the abnormal blood vessels may shrink and go away without treatment. In other cases, the vessels may continue to develop and serious eye and vision problems may occur, such as:
. Myopia (nearsightedness)
. Detachment of the retina
. Amblyopia (lazy eye)
. Strabismus (misaligned eyes)
. Glaucoma (increased eye pressure)
. Vision loss or blindness
Retinopathy of Prematurity Causes
Doctors do not know for certain what causes ROP. Blood vessels in the eye normally finish developing in the last few weeks before birth. Premature infants, however, leave the protective uterus before blood vessels of the eye have had a chance to fully develop. The infants are then exposed to elements, such as medication, high levels of oxygen, and light and temperature changes. These factors may interfere with the normal development of blood vessels in the eye and cause ROP.
Other factors that may have an effect on ROP development include:
. Low birth weight
. Low gestational age
. Use of supplemental oxygen after birth
. Vitamin E deficiency
. Race (Caucasians are more at risk than African-Americans)
. Respiratory complications
ROP: Retinopathy of Prematurity Diagnosis
Premature babies should be screened for ROP and all other at-risk illnesses shortly following birth. An ophthalmologist (Eye M.D.) can diagnose ROP during an examination of the baby’s eyes in a hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) or nursery.
Sometimes ROP may not be detected until several weeks after birth. Therefore, premature babies at risk for ROP should also have their eyes examined by an ophthalmologist four to six weeks following birth. If ROP is diagnosed, the exams should continue regularly until the abnormal blood vessel growth goes away on its own or is adequately treated by the ophthalmologist.
ROP: Retinopathy of Prematurity Treatment
Early stages of ROP do not require any treatment. If ROP advances, laser treatment is used to eliminate the abnormal blood vessels.
Treatment for vision problems may include one or more of the following:
. Temporarily patching one eye (to treat amblyopia)
. Eye surgery
All premature babies and babies with ROP need to be followed closely for vision problems.
Talk with your Eye M.D. if you have any questions about your eyes or your vision, at any age.
Lauren R. Rosecan
M.D., Ph.D., F.A.C.S.
The Retina Institute of Florida with four offices
conveniently located in Palm Beach and Martin Counties.
Toll Free Phone Number: 1-800-445-8898 Or 561-832-4411