What is retinopathy of prematurity?
Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is an eye disease somewhat common among premature babies. (A full-term pregnancy is about 38-42 weeks.) It is a issue that affects the tissue at the back of the eye called the retina. The retina senses light and sends signals to the brain so you are able to use your vision. With ROP, unwanted blood vessels show themselves on the baby’s retina. These blood vessels can cause severe eye and vision problems later.
What causes ROP?
Doctors do not have enough information to know what causes ROP. Blood vessels in the eyes usually finish developing a few weeks before birth. An infant who is born prematurely is exposed to many different things. Medicine, oxygen, bright lights, or temperature changes may be an effect of how an eye’s blood vessels develop.
Here are some of the things doctors think might contribute to ROP:
ROP can go away on its own as an infant develops. If it does not go away, however, it needs to be taken care of. Otherwise, the baby can have serious vision loss, or even go blind.
- Low birth weight (just under 3 pounds or less).
How early a baby is born.
A premature baby born at 28 weeks is more likely to have ROP than a baby born at 32
- Giving the infant extra oxygen after birth.
Caucasian (white) children are more likely to get ROP than children who are African-American. Premature babies are also more likely to get ROP if they have other health problems. These problems include anemia (low levels of iron in the blood), not enough vitamin E, or breathing problems.
How is ROP diagnosed?
Shortly after birth, all premature infants should be tested for ROP. An ophthalmologist can look at the infant’s eyes while they are in the hospital. However, ROP might not be visible until several weeks postpartum. So, premature babies at risk for ROP should be checked by an ophthalmologist again 4 to 6 weeks after being born.
How is ROP treated?
At first, an ophthalmologist may monitor ROP to see if it goes away over time. If abnormal blood vessels continue to grow, the infant’s eyes may need laser therapy or cryotherapy.