Retinopathy of Prematurity Facts

  • Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is among the leading causes of blindness in children.
  • The retina is the inner lining of the wall of the eye and is the part of the eye that receives visual information and sends it to the brain.
  • It takes 40 weeks, or a full-term pregnancy, for blood vessels to develop completely in the fetus.
  • Blood vessels in the retina begin to grow when the fetus is 16 weeks old. These vessels grow gradually over the surface of the retina and reach its front edge at about the time the baby is born.
  • The blood vessels supplying oxygen to the retina are in its innermost layers.
  • The youngest, smallest, and sickest infants are at highest risk for ROP. This usually applies to infants born before the 32nd week of gestation and weighing less than 1,500 grams or 3.3 pounds.
  • Most premature infants do not get retinopathy of prematurity. In 85 percent of premature infants, the blood vessels complete spreading over the retina as they are supposed to. However, this process goes longer than the normal due date.
  • Most premature infants with retinopathy of prematurity will do not need treatment as the condition will resolve itself.
  • Of the five stages of ROP, stages I and II usually need no treatment and get better by themselves. Stage III disease occurs when the blood vessels grow from a ridge in the retina towards the center of the eye. When stage IV is reached, the retina is partly detached, and at Stage V the retina is fully detached.
  • Children who are at risk for developing ROP are still followed once they leave the hospital. They are seen by the doctor until the 52nd week following conception.
  • It is imperative for parents to keep follow-up appointments. Failing to do so may put their baby at risk for blindness.
  • Most newborns with ROP are treated around 35 to 36 weeks after they were conceived.
  • Treatment involves dilating the eyes, keeping the lids open with a speculum, and using a laser to treat the unhealthy growth of blood vessels on the retina.
  • Anesthesia for infants undergoing laser surgery may be general or local.
  • For infants with Stages IV or V ROP, scleral buckling may be used. This treatment involves encircling the eyeball with a silicone band to attempt to reduce the tugging on the retina.
  • Vitrectomy or the removal of the gel-like material that fills the back of the eye is another common type of surgery. Sometimes this requires that the lens be removed as well.
  • Children who are treated and are left with low vision may reach developmental milestones a bit later than the normal child.
  • ROP, whether it regresses on its own or it gets better following treatment, is a disease whose effects last a lifetime. Ongoing care is often needed for nearsightedness, amblyopia (“lazy eye”), glaucoma, retinal detachment and early development of cataracts.
  • ROP does not usually affect a child’s life and he or she can go on to live normally. Some children with a more advanced stage of ROP may not be able to participate in contact sports and sports that involve playing with a ball.

To learn more about retinopathy of prematurity contact our ROP attorneys today.