Retinopathy Of Prematurity And Treatment Options


When a baby is born too early, there are often many concerns regarding their health. One of these areas of health include the health of their eyes. Due to a disease called retinopathy of prematurity, a premature baby's eyes need to be monitored closely. 

What is Retinopathy of Prematurity?

Babies born earlier than 31 weeks of gestation and weigh less than 2.75 pounds at birth are most susceptible to retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). Other risk factors of getting ROP include high levels of supplemental oxygen, a low heart rate, and bleeding in the brain.

First diagnosed in 1942, this disorder can affect one or both of the eyes. In worst case scenarios, it can lead to lifelong vision problems, including blindness. Ninety percent of all infants diagnosed with ROP have a milder form of the disorder that improves as a baby gets older. For some infants diagnosed with ROP, they can be at a higher risk for eye problems in the future including:

  • Retinal detachment
  • Nearsightedness (myopia)
  • Crossed eyes
  • Lazy eye
  • Glaucoma

Treatment options depend on the severity of the condition.

Treatment for Retinopathy of Prematurity

For the most severe cases of ROP, one of the most effective treatment options is cryotherapy. During this treatment, an ophthalmologist freezes the retinal tissue in order to destroy a part of it. This decreases the need for oxygen which in turn decreases the abnormal growth of blood vessels. Laser therapy is another type of treatment that burns away part of the retina. Both of these treatments can impede side vision but have been proven effective in lessening the chances of complete blindness.

For babies whose ROP is not as severe but who may develop problems in the future, it is important to get their eyes checked on a regular basis.  After being discharged from the NICU, babies should get their eyes examined within the first year of life and then again around 3 1/2 years old. 

Many ROP patients will develop nearsightedness and for this, prescription glasses are often needed at an early age. For young children who need to wear glasses, it is best to get plastic frames. Lenses should be made out of polycarbonate as this material is stronger and there is less chance of breaking them. For young children who are especially active, an elastic strap can be attached to help keep glasses in place.

For babies born early, it is the best practice to get their eyes evaluated as early as possible and as often as needed as they grow.


4 August 2015

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