Retinopathy Of Prematurity

What is retinopathy of prematurity?

Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is when abnormal blood vessels develop in your baby's retinas. The retina is the part of the eye that captures light and sends information to the brain. ROP happens in premature babies or low birth weight babies. ROP most often affects both eyes.

What causes ROP?

Your baby's eyes develop during pregnancy. Normal eye development may stop if your baby is born prematurely. The newborn infant's body reacts by making more blood vessels in the retina, but they are not normal. These blood vessels grow larger and spread beyond where they should be in the eye. They are also weak and may leak blood, causing scar tissue to form on the retina. Over time, the scar tissue can make the retina detach (pull away) from its position at the back of the eye.

What increases my baby's risk of ROP?

  • Your baby weighs less than 3.3 pounds (1500 grams) at birth.

  • Your baby is born at 32 weeks gestation or earlier.

  • Your baby needs a ventilator to help him breathe.

  • Your baby has to stay in the hospital for a long time after birth.

How is ROP diagnosed?

Infants with a higher risk of ROP are screened for signs of the disease. Your baby's eyes will be numbed to prevent pain. Your baby may be given a pacifier or sweet liquid to soothe him. Your baby's caregiver will dilate your baby's pupils and look at the back of his eyes with an ophthalmoscope. An ophthalmoscope is a magnifying instrument with a light. He looks for abnormal blood vessels in your baby's eyes.

How is ROP treated?

Infants with mild ROP may not need treatment. Caregivers will ask you to bring your baby to regular eye checkups. This will help caregivers monitor your baby's ROP over time. ROP becomes severe when the blood vessels have grown large and twisted. Your baby may need any of the following surgeries if his retinopathy is severe:

  • Laser therapy: Your baby's caregiver uses a laser to remove abnormal blood vessels.

  • Cryotherapy: Your baby's caregiver freezes areas of abnormal blood vessels to slow or stop their growth.

  • Scleral buckling: A band is placed on the eye to help prevent fluid inside the eye from pulling on scar tissue. This helps prevent retinal detachment. The band is removed at a later date as your child grows.

  • Vitrectomy: Your baby's caregiver removes the cloudy or bloody vitreous gel that fills the center of your baby's eye. The gel is replaced by saline (salt water) to maintain normal pressure in the eye.

What are the risks of ROP?

Laser therapy and cryotherapy can decrease peripheral vision. Your baby may get an infection after surgery. ROP may get worse, even after treatment. Your child may have vision problems as he grows. His vision may be blurry, or he may see floaters. Floaters look like spots, cobwebs, strings, or specks. He may see flashes of light. Your baby may have blurred vision or blindness. ROP can cause retinal detachment. This is when your baby's retina separates from the back of his eye. A detached retina can lead to vision loss.

What can I do to help my baby?

Keep all follow-up appointments. Your baby's caregiver will screen for and monitor your baby's ROP. Your baby may need more tests to find other eye conditions that can happen with ROP. Your baby's caregiver will go over any test results with you.

Where can I find support and more information?

  • American Academy of Pediatrics
    141 Northwest Point Boulevard
    Elk Grove Village , IL 60007-1098
    Phone: 1- 847 - 434-4000
    Web Address: http://www.aap.org

When should I contact my baby's caregiver?

Contact your baby's caregiver if:

  • Your baby has a fever.

  • Your baby's eye is red, swollen, and draining pus.

  • Your baby is not eating or drinking well.

  • You have questions or concerns about your baby's condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • Your baby is irritable and crying more than usual.

  • Your baby has blood spots in his eyes.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your baby's care. Learn about your baby's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your baby's caregivers to decide what care you want for your baby. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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