Retinopathy of Prematurity
Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is a potentially blinding eye disease that occurs in a small percentage of premature babies. With ROP, abnormal blood vessels grow and spread on the retina -- the light-sensitive tissue that lines the back of the eye and allows us to see.
Sometimes these abnormal vessels shrink and go away without treatment. In other cases, they can lead to:
- Retinal detachment
- Myopia (nearsightedness)
- Amblyopia (lazy eye)
- Strabismus (misaligned eyes)
- Glaucoma (increased eye pressure)
- Vision loss or blindness
Several factors can lead to ROP. The eye’s blood vessels do not typically finish developing until the last few weeks before birth. As a result, the eyes of babies born pre-term may not be fully developed. In addition, premature infants are exposed to high levels of light, oxygen and temperature changes which could further impact normal eye development.
Premature babies should be screened for ROP soon after birth. The pediatric ophthalmologists at Eye Physicians of Central Florida can examine a baby’s eyes in the hospital neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) or nursery. Additional eye exams are usually necessary to monitor the development of the retina.
Early stages of ROP often do not require treatment. More advanced cases are typically treated with laser therapy or cryotherapy. Both destroy the abnormal blood vessels.
All children who are born premature, even if they do not develop ROP, should be closely followed for vision problems.