What is Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP)?

Previously known as retrolental fibroplasia, retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is a condition in which premature babies experience disorganized blood vessel growth in their eyes. Although milder cases of Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) may spontaneously correct themselves, in the worst cases, ocular scarring caused by retinopathy of prematurity can result in blindness.

About 16 percent of all premature babies will develop Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). In the US, retinopathy of prematurity causes between 500 and 1,200 infants to be diagnosed as legally blind each year.

Causes of Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP)

Retinopathy of prematurity is a disease that typically only affects:

  • premature infants born less than 32 weeks into pregnancy; or
  • babies born significantly underweight (weighing less than 3.3 pounds at birth)

For these babies, Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is most likely to develop with the occurrence of:

  • Oxygen toxicity, the harmful act of inhaling molecular oxygen (rather than air) at partial pressures (Premature infants can be administered molecular oxygen therapy to prevent excess concentrations of oxygen in the body from damaging underdeveloped tissues.)
  • Hypoxia, a condition in which part or all of the body is deprived of oxygen

The longer oxygen levels don't match a premature infant's needs, the more likely that severe cases of Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) will develop.

Risk Factors for Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP)

Along with premature birth and being underweight, factors that are likely to increase babies' risk of developing retinopathy of prematurity include:

  • bleeding in the brain
  • concurrent ailments
  • high carbon dioxide levels in the body
  • irregular breathing when sleeping (apnea)
  • low levels of iron in the blood (anemia)
  • mechanical ventilation treatment
  • seizures
  • slow heart rate (bradycardia)
  • undergoing blood transfusions

Maternal factors that may increase infant's risk of developing Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) include:

  • heavy smoking during pregnancy
  • gestational diabetes
  • preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy).

Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) Diagnosis and Treatment

Infants with a high risk of ROP will be closely monitored by eye specialists following birth. While Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) assessment guidelines will vary from hospital to hospital, in most cases, they involve examining:

  • babies born between 23 and 24 weeks of pregnancy within the first month of birth
  • infants born between 25 and 28 weeks of pregnancy between the 4th and 5th week after birth
  • newborns born between 29 and 32 weeks of pregnancy before they are discharged from the hospital

Every six months after, ocular specialists will want to examine high-risk babies to monitor their progression.

Although infants may not develop Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), about 20 percent will still:

  • have crossed eyes
  • develop turned out eyes
  • need to wear prescription eyeglasses

Following a definitive retinopathy of prematurity diagnosis, possible treatment options may involve:

  • cyrotherapy (freezing retinal tissues)
  • laser therapy
  • scleral buckling (a surgery in which ophthalmologists place a band around the eye to hold the retina to the eye's inner layers)

Has your baby been diagnosed with ROP? If so, contact a Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) lawyer today to get further information and resources regarding retinopathy of prematurity.