Retinopathy of prematurity is an eye problem that happens to premature babies. The retina lines the back of the eye. It receives light as it comes through the pupil. From there, the optic nerve sends signals to the brain. Retinopathy of prematurity is a problem of the blood vessels of the retina. It occurs in stages. It can cause bleeding and scarring throughout the retina. This may cause the retina to detach. A detached retina can cause loss of eyesight.
Doctors don't know what causes this condition. Babies who are born too early (premature) or at a lower birth weight are more likely to get retinopathy of prematurity. In premature babies, the blood vessels of the retina may not have the chance to develop as they should.
Babies who are born prematurely are most likely to get this condition. Babies who weigh less than 2 pounds, 12 ounces and are born before 31 weeks of the pregnancy are at greatest risk.
Retinopathy of prematurity has no signs or symptoms. The only way to detect it is through an eye exam by an eye doctor.
An eye doctor (ophthalmologist) will look at your baby's retinas. The doctor should have experience treating retinopathy of prematurity. Babies should be screened if they:
Doctors use a special system to describe retinopathy of prematurity. They use it to figure out treatment and timing of follow-up exams. When the baby's eyes are checked, the eye doctor describes the stage and zone of the retinopathy. There are 3 different locations or zones of the retina that the retinopathy can occur. Zone I is the central zone. It is at the back of the eye and extends from the optic disc to twice the distance between the macula and subtending. Zone II forms a circle outside zone I from the optic nerve to the nose. Zone III is the remaining temporal crescent of the retina.
Your baby will be checked regularly, based on his or her condition. That is all most babies need. Retinopathy of prematurity goes away without treatment.
If your baby needs treatment, the doctor can use a laser to stop the growth of abnormal blood vessels. Or the doctor may use cold therapy (cryotherapy). Some forms of the condition are treated with injections. But the long-term effects of these injections aren’t yet known.
Two surgeries may be done for babies with partial or total retinal detachment:
After treatment, your baby will be checked often. Your baby should have regular exams by an eye doctor.
Preventing premature births is the key to preventing this problem. Finding the condition early and getting treatment can help prevent long-term vision problems.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
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