Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP)

baby-eyesWhen a premature baby is born very early, his eyes are not fully developed.  As with other organs, it takes weeks for the eyes to continue to completely mature.

During normal eye development, a network of little blood vessels forms at the center of the retina in the back of the eye. Over time, the blood vessels spread and cover the surface of the retina, moving toward the front of the eye, carrying much needed oxygen.  This process is complete around the time of full term birth.

ROP is an abnormal growth of blood vessels in the eye. It occurs only in babies born before 32 weeks of pregnancy. The flow of oxygen throughout the eye can be slowed or accelerated due to the air the baby is receiving.  Respiratory distress and apnea episodes can reduce the flow while extra oxygen a baby may be receiving can increase the flow.  This change in oxygen flow can cause new, abnormal vessels to grow. ROP can lead to bleeding and scarring that can damage the eye’s retina (the lining at the rear of the eye that relays messages to the brain). This can result in vision loss. An ophthalmologist (eye doctor) will examine the baby’s eyes for signs of ROP.

Most NICUs have a screening program for babies born before a certain gestational age.  The doctor will examine the baby’s eyes and if he sees any sign of ROP, he will classify it as a stage 1-5 (mild-severe).  While ROP can progress from a mild stage to a more severe stage, it may stop at any time and disappear entirely.  It is very important that every baby with ROP have frequent follow-up exams, even if this extends beyond hospital discharge, until the ROP disappears.

Terrifying as a diagnosis of ROP may be, the good news is that most mild cases heal without treatment, with little or no vision loss. The abnormal blood vessels shrink and disappear.  In more severe cases, the ophthalmologist may perform laser therapy or do a procedure called cryotherapy (freezing) to eliminate abnormal blood vessels and scars. Both treatments help protect the retina.

Don’t forget that Nov. 17th is Prematurity Awareness Day.  Got a blog? Help us raise awareness by joining Bloggers UNITE to Fight for Preemies.

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4 Responses to “Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP)”

  1. melissa armstrong Says:

    i just had twin girls born at 26 weeks and one of my daughters had that problem they said she might need eye surgery to fix the problem.they sent her to a different hospital to care and look after her,they also sent her sister because she had blood in her pee and poop and was found out as a hernia in two places.they are doing fine now my daughters are growing fast and one of them will need surgery to fix the hernia.please pray for my little girls they need the prayers to get though this
    thank you<3

  2. Lindsay Says:

    Melissa, sorry to hear about your girls challenges but I’m so pleased that they are doing better now. They definitely are in our thoughts.

  3. Sherice Says:

    As an adult with ROP, I’m so pleased that newborns now have things like the cryo and laser treatment to help stop the abnormal blood vessels in their tracks. I was blessed and fortunate to be able to have vision in one eye (although I have to be very careful!) and my thoughts are with the little ones still struggling after being born early.

  4. Lindsay Says:

    Sherice, thanks for your comment. I’m very glad to know you have vision in one eye. Take care.