Retinopathy of Prematurity

Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is an eye condition that occurs in premature babies. It causes abnormal growth of blood vessels in the retina, which leads to retinal detachment. Some cases of ROP are mild and will not significantly affect vision; however, some infants may need to undergo laser therapy or surgery to preserve vision.

What is retinopathy of prematurity?

ROP is a disease that affects the retina, which is the light sensitive part of the eye. It leads to abnormal growth of blood vessels and scar tissue on the retina. This growth can eventually cause retinal detachment. There are many different factors that will determine whether ROP progresses in premature infants, including overall health of the baby and birth weight.

Symptoms of retinopathy of prematurity

ROP proceeds in stages. At first, abnormal blood vessel growth may be mild. When blood vessel growth progresses to severely abnormal levels it will lead to partial, then complete retinal detachment. At most stages of the disease, the abnormal blood vessel growth cannot be seen by the naked eye. As it progresses, it may lead to abnormal eye movements, crossed eyes, white-looking pupils, and nearsightedness.

Causes of retinopathy of prematurity

When infants are born prematurely, their eye development can potentially be disrupted. Blood vessels start developing in the retina about three months after conception and then begin to branch out in the eighth month of pregnancy. If an infant is born prematurely the normal growth of blood vessels can be halted, and the vessels will begin to grow abnormally. The abnormal vessels are fragile and bleed easily. Scar tissue may develop that causes the retina to pull away from its underlying tissue and eventually detach.

Treatment of retinopathy of prematurity

Premature babies and babies that weigh less than three pounds at birth should be screened for ROP. Early treatment can improve the chances of preserving vision. Some babies will require immediate treatment to stop the spread of abnormal blood vessel growth or to reattach the retina. Treatment options include: 

  • Laser surgery
  • Cryotherapy 
  • Scleral buckling
  • Vitrectomy


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