Retinopathy of Prematurity Development

The retina lines the inner wall of the eye. It is the light-sensitive part of the organ comparable to the film in a camera. This is where the eye receives visual information and sends it to the brain via the optic nerve. It is composed of seven layers and is where the eye’s nerve cells are.

When the fetus is 16 weeks old, blood vessels begin growing from the center of the retina at the point of the optic nerve, branch outward, grow over the surface of the retina, and reach the edges in the eighth month of gestation. The blood vessels continue to grow and complete developing when the baby is born at the normal gestational age of 40 weeks.

Interruption of Normal Blood Vessel Growth

If a baby is born very prematurely, the development of the eye and retinal blood vessels may be interrupted. The vessels that had been forming and growing to reach the retinal edges may stop emerging or they may grow into the gel that fills the back of the eye and is normally clear. When these fragile blood vessels leak, they cause bleeding in the eye.

At the time when the blood vessels stop growing, part of the retina becomes deficient in oxygen. Then the blood vessels either continue to grow normally or retinopathy of prematurity starts to develop.

When a baby is born before the full term of 40 weeks, the blood vessels of the retina are only partially formed. Blood vessels have developed at the back of the eye, but not yet grown into the rest of the retina. The more premature the infant is, the more severe the retinopathy of prematurity will be.

Stages of Retinopathy of Prematurity

Doctors divide retinopathy of prematurity into five stages:

  • Stage I: This describes a situation where the blood vessel growth is only mildly abnormal and usually goes on to become normal. The ophthalmologist sees in the eye a flat line between the vascularized (having blood vessels) and avascular (without blood vessels) portions of the retina.
  • Stage II: This stage usually repairs itself on its own. The line between the vascularized and avascular part of the retina has become a raised ridge.
  • Stage III: This is moderate to severe ROP. New undesirable vascular tissue has grown out from the ridge toward the center of the eye. Abnormalities in this stage may lead to retinal detachment.
  • Stage IV: The retina becomes partially detached.
  • Stage V: The retina is fully detached.

Stages IV and V of ROP may cause blindness.

As more premature infants are surviving at younger ages thanks to modern neonatal care and technology, more babies are being diagnosed with ROP as well. If your baby is diagnosed with ROP, there is a possibility you may be entitled to compensation. To learn more, schedule a free case review with a retinopathy of prematurity lawyer today.