Retinopathy of Prematurity

Also known as: ROP.

What is retinopathy of prematurity?

ROP is an eye disease affecting the retina (the tissue at the back of the eye that senses light, sending those signals to the brain to be interpreted as sight) that occurs in some babies who are born very immature (before 31 weeks gestation/1250 grams or less-a normal full term pregnancy is 38-42 weeks). Not all very premature babies develop ROP. When present the disease is classified into 5 stages depending on severity; Mild (stage 1-90%) through Severe (stage 5) which may result in serious vision loss.

What causes retinopathy of prematurity?

The retina has blood vessels that feed it which are usually fully developed by the time the baby reaches full-term (38-40 weeks gestation). When a baby is born very premature these may stop growing, or start growing again, only now abnormal blood vessels grow which are weak and can leak. This can lead to scarring of the retina and when the scars shrink they can pull it out of place (called retinal detachment) which can result in blindness.

Risk factors for ROP include; anemia, difficulty breathing/apnea and/or respiratory distress, blood transfusions, supplemental or lack of oxygen, heart disease, infection and Vitamin E deficiency.

What are the symptoms of retinopathy of prematurity?

Most newborns are screened in the neonatal intensive care unit for ROP by an Ophthalmologist and few have any symptoms. In some cases the baby may be at risk of developing crossed eyes, white pupils, abnormal eye movements, severe vision problems or blindness.

What are retinopathy of prematurity care options?

Most babies with ROP will require no treatment and the ROP resolves without causing any damage to the eye. Treatments will depend on the severity of the condition and may include laser therapy, cryotherapy, antivascular medications, or a combination of these, scleral buckling and/or vitrectomy. Surgery may be an option.

Reviewed by: Jack Wolfsdorf, MD, FAAP

This page was last updated on: September 06, 2019 03:23 PM