Learning About Retinopathy of Prematurity

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Anatomy of the eye, including the retina

What is retinopathy of prematurity?

Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is an eye problem that can affect babies who are born early (premature). It is common in babies born at or before 30 weeks. And it is common in babies under 1.5 kilograms.

The nerve layer at the back of the eye (retina) plays a vital role in vision. After a premature baby is born, the retina may continue to develop. Sometimes abnormal blood vessels grow around the edges of the retina. These vessels may cause damage to the retina.

Most cases of ROP are mild, and the eye heals itself. In more severe cases, the retina detaches from the back of the eye. That may lead to vision loss. The doctor may suggest surgery to try to save all or part of the baby's vision.

You may not have noticed anything wrong with your baby's eyes. Your baby's doctor may discover the problem while your baby is in the hospital. Or it may be found a few weeks after birth. Once it's known that your baby has ROP, you and the eye doctor will talk about next steps for your baby's care.

What can you expect?

Even after treatment, your baby will need regular checkups with an eye doctor. This is because your baby is more likely to have other eye problems in the future.

How is ROP treated?

If your baby's ROP is mild, it may not need treatment.

If your baby's ROP is more severe, your doctor may talk to you about surgery.

Two types of surgery are often used for ROP. Laser therapy burns the tissue on the side of the retina. Cryotherapy freezes it. Either treatment may destroy some side vision. These surgeries reduce the chance that your baby's retina will pull away from the back of the eye and detach.

An injection of a medicine into the eye can slow the growth of the abnormal blood vessels in the back of the eye. If this treatment is used, it can also help reduce the chance that the retina will detach.

If the retina has pulled away from the back of the eye (detached), your baby may need another kind of surgery. Surgery can help keep as much vision as possible. And it may help prevent blindness.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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