Retinopathy of Prematurity

With so many premature babies born in the United States every year, one has to wonder about what negative effects this has on the physical development of the infant.  One problem that can arise is Retinopathy of Prematurity or ROP.  ROP is a disease of the eye that appears shortly after birth in some premature babies.  The disease forms when developing eyes send a signal to the brain that not enough oxygen is present.  This results in abnormal blood vessels forming in the eyes.  The problem with the new blood vessels is that they often lead to scaring which can later cause retinal detatchment.  Retinal detachment is when the retina (light sensing layer at the back of the eye), detaches from the back of the eye.  The severity of this detachment varies, and if not treated, is likely to lead to partial or total blindness in one or both eyes.  While blindness is the worst outcome, ROP can assist in the development of a myriad of other eye problems that will need to be corrected further down the road.

this is a fully detached retina

this is a fully detached retina

There are five stages of ROP.  Treatment typically takes place in the third stage, but many cases correct themselves before they reach this point.  In the early 90’s there was a switch from cryotherapy to laser treatment.  Cryotherapy is a treatment involving freezing the retina of the eye.  This is meant to kill the abnormal blood vessels and stop further scaring which could lead to retinal detachment.  Laser therapy works in the same manner as cryotherapy, but has fewer side effects and is much less painful.  Treatment of ROP is by no means perfect, but as long as doctors continue to work on this troubling illness, progress will be made, slowly but surely.

premature infant eye exams help to catch and follow ROP

premature infant eye exams help to catch and follow ROP

Understanding Retinopathy of Prematurity (a brochure for family members)

Interview with Robert O. Hoffman MD, Professor of Pediatric Ophthalmology & Srabismus at the University of Utah

-Andrea Hoffman

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~ by happysprinkles on September 5, 2009.

One Response to “Retinopathy of Prematurity”

  1. Great post – this is fascinating!

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