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Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) is a condition where the retina develops abnormally after birth. It is seen almost exclusively in infants less than 1250 grams (about 2.75 pounds) or less than 31 weeks gestational age. Most cases of ROP are mild and resolve themselves, but some require treatment. All children who have been diagnosed with ROP should have their eyes monitored by an ophthalmologist, even if the condition seems to have resolved.
It is believed that ROP occurs when the retina does not finish developing before birth. The edges of the retina that are undeveloped may then send out signals to the rest of the retina for nourishment, which can cause abnormal blood vessels to develop. If the condition is bad enough, it may cause retinal detachment, leading to long-term vision problems including blindness.
Risk factors for ROP besides birth weight and gestational age include anemia, blood transfusion, poor weight gain, and breathing difficulties. Oxygen use was a risk factor in the past, but has been largely eliminated through careful monitoring. Light levels have been shown to have no effect on ROP.
Most babies with ROP have mild ROP, which tends to resolve on its own. However, it must be watched because occasionally ROP can worsen rapidly. Babies with more severe ROP are usually treated in the hospital with laser ablation therapy, surgery, or injectable medication. However, treatment is often not complete before the baby is ready to go home, which means that they may require extensive follow-up care.
There are two surgical procedures that are used on babies with extremely severe ROP. The long-term outcomes of these surgeries is relatively unknown, and one of the surgeries, called a scleral buckle, requires an additional surgery later on to remove the buckle. However, babies who are treated with these surgeries are the ones believed to be most at risk of losing their sight entirely. If a baby had a surgical procedure performed for ROP, they should be followed closely by an ophthalmologist who can look for any eye abnormalities related to the condition or treatment method.
ROP and prematurity are risk factors for other conditions such as amblyopia and strabismus. In addition, glaucoma, myopia, and retinal detachment are more common in people with a history of ROP. Because of this, children who have a history of ROP, even mild ROP that did not require treatment, should have their eyes checked by an ophthalmologist regularly.
Although she treats patients of all ages, Dr. Cooper specializes in pediatric eye care, including the care of children who were diagnosed with ROP. If your child was diagnosed with ROP, contact us at 650-259-0300 to schedule an appointment. We will work together to monitor and treat your child's eyes as they grow so that any potential problems are caught early and their vision remains as sharp as possible.