Retinopathy of Prematurity in Adults

Advances in technology as well as better treatment techniques for helping premature infants to stay alive have resulted in more premature infants surviving and therefore more cases of retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) occurring. Sometimes, adults who were born prematurely and suffered ROP have complications from their earlier disease.

According to the National Eye Institute (NIE) of the National Institutes of Health, premature infants with retinopathy of prematurity are at higher risk for developing the following problems later in life:

  • Retinal detachment — This occurs when the retina of the eye pulls away from the eye wall. Retinal detachment is treated surgically. If left untreated, retinal detachment results in blindness.
  • Myopia — (Nearsightedness) Myopia is often corrected with eyeglasses.
  • Strabismus — (Crossed eyes.) Eyes may turn inward, outward, up or down and do not act together. The condition may be constant or intermittent. Vision therapy to train and strengthen the muscles may avoid the need for surgery.)
  • Amblyopia — (Lazy eye.) When this occurs, the patient does not have central vision in one eye. Treatment consists of prescription lenses, eye patching, vision therapy and prisms. The condition does not go away on its own. If not diagnosed until someone is a preteen, teen or adult, treatment is longer and not as successful )
  • Glaucoma — The second most common cause of blindness in the United States, glaucoma is damage to the optic nerve, usually caused by increased pressure within the eye.

Most of the time, these adult cases of ROP can be treated or controlled, according to the NIE.

Study: Retinopathy of Prematurity in Adults

A retrospective (backward looking) study was reported in a 2008 issue of the American Journal of Ophthalmology (copyrighted by Elsevier) on 66 eyes from 45 patients who had retinopathy of prematurity as infants. The authors of the study concluded that cataract surgery patients were an average of 40 years old at the time of their cataract surgery. After cataract surgery, 15 percent of the patients developed a retinal tear or retinal detachment.

"This suggests that asymptomatic (without symptoms) patients with a history of premature birth need frequent and regularly scheduled evaluations to monitor for retinal complications before and after cataract surgery," the study's authors said.

The study's authors were from the Retina Service at the Wills Eye Institute in Philadelphia, and the Associated Retinal Consultants at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan.

In those instances where ROP is not addressed in childhood and the condition continues into adulthood, the results of treatment may not be as satisfactory. If you or someone you love has experienced ROP as an adult, you should contact an ROP lawyer to find out if you qualify for compensation.