Retinopathy of Prematurity Definition

Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is a potentially blinding disorder of the retina of the eye that occurs in many premature infants. When a baby is born prematurely, the retina has not yet fully developed. Even in infants born at term, the retina continues developing until the third or fourth week after birth.

Normal development of the retina ceases when the baby is born. The shorter the baby's gestation and the lower the weight the baby, the greater the chances the infant will be born with retinopathy of prematurity.

When the retina stops growing, abnormal blood vessels begin to grow into the eye. This development of abnormal blood vessels is what defines retinopathy of prematurity.

The disorder occurs, to some degree, in 14,000 to 16,000 babies born each year in the United States. Most cases of ROP resolve on their own. Between 1,100 and 1,500 infants develop ROP annually that needs some type of medical care. ROP causes legal blindness in between 400 and 600 infants born in the U.S. annually.

What are the Symptoms of ROP?

The symptoms of ROP can be discerned only by looking through an ophthalmoscope to observe the inside of the eye. The symptoms are divided into five stages of severity:

  • Stage I: Blood vessel growth is mildly abnormal. The condition will resolve itself, and most babies with this stage of the disease will have normal vision.
  • Stage II: Moderately abnormal blood vessel growth. Many babies with this stage of the disease will have normal vision because the condition resolves itself.
  • Stage III: Severely abnormal blood vessel growth. In some infants with Stage III disease, the condition will resolve on its own and the baby will go on to have normal vision. Others at this stage, however, if they have what is called "plus" disease, may need to be treated to avoid retinal detachment. This stage is characterized by enlarged and twisted blood vessel growth.
  • Stage IV: Abnormal blood vessel growth leads to scarring and the retina is tugged away from the wall of the eye.
  • Stage V: This is the end stage of the disease. The retina has become completely detached. Babies with this stage of the disease need treatment to avoid visual impairment and possible blindness. Not all treatment is successful.

Are There Long-Term Complications?

These infants may develop certain eye problems as they grow older. These include:

  • Retinal detachment
  • Myopia (nearsightedness)
  • Strabismus (crossed eyes)
  • Amblyopia (lazy eye)
  • Glaucoma

If your baby is diagnosed with ROP, contact us to find out if you qualify to seek compensation.