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Retinopathy of Prematurity

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KEY POINTS

  • Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) means that abnormal blood vessels grow inside the eye in babies who are born before 30 weeks. This may cause vision problems or even blindness if not treated.
  • Treatment depends on how severe the problem is. If your baby has mild to moderate ROP, treatment may not be needed. If the blood vessels have enlarged, twisted, or caused the retina to detach, your baby may need laser, cryotherapy (freezing), or injections of medicine into the eye to destroy part of the retina and stop abnormal blood vessel growth.

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What is retinopathy of prematurity?

Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) means that abnormal blood vessels start to grow inside the eye in babies who are born before 30 weeks and weigh less than 3 pounds. This may cause vision problems or even blindness if not treated.

All premature babies should have their eyes checked soon after birth.

What is the cause?

The eye starts to develop at about 16 weeks of pregnancy, when the blood vessels of the retina begin to form in the back of the eye. During the last 12 weeks of a pregnancy, the eye develops rapidly. If a baby is born too early, blood vessels may not grow normally and may cause problems with the retina.

Besides being born early, your baby is more likely to have ROP if:

  • Your baby has breathing problems and needs extra oxygen or a breathing machine.
  • Your baby has anemia or needs blood transfusions.

What are the symptoms?

Premature infants with ROP usually do not have symptoms that you can see. An ophthalmologist (eye specialist) uses instruments to examine your baby’s retina. If ROP is severe, your infant may have white pupils, abnormal eye movements, or eyes that look small or sunken.

How are it diagnosed?

All premature babies should be screened for ROP shortly after birth. Premature babies at risk for ROP should also have their eyes checked by an eye specialist 4 to 6 weeks after birth.

How is it treated?

Treatment depends on how severe the problem is. If your baby has mild to moderate ROP, treatment may not be needed. If the blood vessels have enlarged, twisted, or caused the retina to detach, your baby may need laser, cryotherapy (freezing), or injections of medicine into the eye to destroy part of the retina and stop abnormal blood vessel growth.

How can I take care of my child?

A baby with ROP may have eye problems later in life such as being nearsighted, having lazy eye, or having glaucoma. Make sure that your child has regular eye exams to find and treat problems early.

For more information contact:

Reviewed for medical accuracy by faculty at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins. Web site: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/wilmer/
Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2019.4 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2019-10-30
Last reviewed: 2019-07-23
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2018 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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