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Retinopathy of Prematurity


  • Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is an eye disease that affects the retina of some premature (born earlier than planned) babies. ROP may also happen to low birth weight babies. ROP can range from mild to severe (very bad), and often affects both eyes. The retina is the part of the eye that captures light and sends information to the brain. If your baby is born prematurely, normal eye development can be stopped. The newborn infant's body reacts by making abnormal blood vessels in the retina that grow larger, and spread beyond where they should be. These vessels are 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 it's place at the back of the eye.
    Picture of a normal eye
  • Infants who are at higher risk of having ROP are screened (checked) for signs of the disease. To screen infants, a special eye doctor called an ophthalmologist does a test called binocular indirect ophthalmoscopy. This test shows problems with the blood vessels in your baby's eyes. Infants who have mild ROP may not need treatment. Surgery to treat ROP is rare, but may be done if the retinopathy is severe. Types of surgery include laser therapy, cryotherapy, sclera buckling, and vitrectomy. It is very important to keep all appointments with your baby's caregiver. This will show caregivers if your baby's ROP is changing over time. If your baby needs treatment, retinopathy of prematurity may decrease or stop. Keeping regular appointments, and treatment (if necessary), may help prevent your child from having severe vision problems.


Keep a current list of your child's medicines:

Include the amounts, and when, how, and why they are taken. Bring the list and the medicines in their containers to follow-up visits. Carry your child's medicine list with you in case of an emergency. Throw away old medicine lists. Give vitamins, herbs, or food supplements only as directed.

Give your child's medicine as directed:

Call your child's primary healthcare provider if you think the medicine is not working as expected. Tell him if your child is allergic to any medicine. Ask before you change or stop giving your child his medicines.

Do not give aspirin to children under 18 years of age:

Your child could develop Reye syndrome if he takes aspirin. Reye syndrome can cause life-threatening brain and liver damage. Check your child's medicine labels for aspirin, salicylates, or oil of wintergreen.

Keep all follow-up appointments.

  • When and how often to take your baby to see his caregiver depends on your baby's treatments, the results of his eye tests, and other factors. In addition to screening for ROP, follow-up tests are used to find other eye conditions that can happen with ROP. Ask caregivers to explain the results of your baby's tests to you in a way that you can understand. Your baby's caregiver will tell you when you must take your baby for follow-up appointments. If your baby needs to wear an eye patch, do not remove it unless caregivers say it is okay to do so.
  • Your baby may no longer need retinal screening if treatment has helped improve blood flow to his retina. If your newborn baby has no signs of ROP after a certain amount of time, he may no longer need ROP screening. ROP screening also may not be needed if tests show that the ROP has gone away.

Risks of retinopathy of prematurity:

With ROP, your child may have vision problems as he grows. His vision may be blurry, or he may see floaters, which can look like spots, cobwebs, strings, or specks. He may see flashes of light. Retinopathy of prematurity can cause retinal detachment. A retinal detachment is a separation of the retinal tissue from inside the wall of the eye. A detached retina may lead to partial or complete blindness. Keeping all follow-up eye appointments will allow your baby to get the help he needs from his treatment.


  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child's eyesight seems to be getting worse.
  • Swelling and redness of your child's eyes does not go away.
  • Your child is not eating or drinking well.
  • You have questions about ROP, your child's medicines, or his care.


  • Your older child tells you that he suddenly has very bad eye pain, or he cannot see anything.
  • Your child is very cranky and crying more than usual.
  • Your child has blood spots or blood in his eyes.

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.

Learn more about Retinopathy of Prematurity (Aftercare Instructions)

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.