Retinopathy of Prematurity and Blindness

Retinopathy means disease of the retina, the tissue that lines the back of the eye. It is the part of the eye that receives images and transmits them to the brain through the optic nerve.

Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) occurs in premature infants when blood vessels grow abnormally and spread throughout the retina. Because these abnormal blood vessels are fragile, they may leak blood into the surrounding tissue. This leads to scarring of the retina.

This scar tissue shrinks and, as it does, it pulls the retina away from the wall of the eye. Retinal detachment, as this is called, is the primary cause of vision problems and blindness in ROP.

The severity of ROP is graded into stages, Stage I (mild) through Stage V (severe). Premature babies with Stage I or Stage II disease usually get better on their own. Blood vessel growth is mild to moderately abnormal at this stage but reverts to normal over a short period of time.

Infants with Stage IV disease have severely abnormal blood vessel growth. At this stage, the retina is partially detached and vision is impaired and the child may be partially blind. At Stage V, the retina has become completely detached and if the eye is not treated, the child will be blind. The blindness results from the retina detaching from the wall of the eye.

Retinopathy of Prematurity and Infants

ROP is a disease of premature babies. All infants born before 32 weeks gestation or weighing less than 1500 grams (three pounds) are at risk of developing the disorder. About 14,000 to 16,000 premature infants born each year have some degree of ROP. Most of these (about 90 percent) are mild cases and do not need any treatment. They get better by themselves.

Between 1,100 and 1,500 infants born each year have retinopathy of prematurity that requires medical care. Of these, between 400 and 600 babies born each year will become legally blind.

The best prevention of ROP is to prevent prematurity of infants. Moderately premature infants have less ROP thanks to better neonatal intensive unit care. Those infants who are very premature, however, are being saved more often due to advances in technology. These very early preemies are at higher risk of developing ROP, since the earlier the premature baby is born and the less the baby weighs, the greater the chances for retinopathy of prematurity.

Thus, because more premature babies are being saved at increasingly younger ages, the rate of ROP has been increasing.

Compensation May Be Available

If your baby is blind from ROP, you might be eligible for financial compensation. To learn more, contact our ROP lawyers for a free case review.