Posts Tagged ‘eye development’

Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP)

Monday, September 20th, 2010

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.