Eye Exam for Retinopathy of Prematurity
by Alexandra Howson, PhD
During this exam, an eye doctor examines the interior of the eyes through a special lens. The doctor checks for any damaged blood vessels in the retina inside the eye.
Reasons for Procedure TOP
This exam is done to look for retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). ROP is an abnormal growth of blood vessels in the retina. It is a rare conditions that that can occur in premature infants or those that have a low birth weight. ROP will usually go away on its own but some can cause vision loss or blindness. This exam will help determine if ROP is present and if treatment is needed.
If your infant is at risk for ROP, this eye exam will be scheduled at regular intervals until the blood vessels of the eye are fully developed.
Possible Complications TOP
Your infant may need eye drops during the exam. Your doctor will discuss the complications that may be caused by eye drops, such as:
Be sure to discuss these risks with the doctor before the eye exam.
What to Expect TOP
Prior to Procedure
Drops may be placed in the eyes to numb them and keep your infant comfortable.
Description of the Procedure TOP
An assistant may gently place your infant in a blanket and hold them during the exam. A special device will be placed to keep your infant's eyelids open. A special lens will send a bright light into the eye so the doctor can see the blood vessels in the eye. The doctor may also use a tool to move the eye in different directions.
How Long Will It Take? TOP
Will It Hurt? TOP
The dilating eye drops can cause stinging. The exam can cause discomfort, as well. Ask the doctor if medication may be needed to keep your infant comfortable.
Post-procedure Care TOP
At the Care Center
Right after the exam, the doctor will tell you about the condition of your infant’s eyes. Follow up will be scheduled if your child needs a procedure or repeat screening.
Depending on the strength of the eye drops, your infant’s eyes may be dilated for 4-24 hours.
Call Your Doctor TOP
It is important to monitor your infant's recovery. Alert your infant's doctor to any problems. If any of the following occur, call your infant's doctor:
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
National Eye Institute
Canadian Ophthalmology Society
Canadian Pediatric Society
Retinopathy of prematurity. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
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Updated June 10, 2013. Accessed June 21, 2013.
Retinopathy of prematurity. National Eye Institute website. Available at: https://www.nei.nih.gov/health/rop. Accessed June 21, 2013.
Last reviewed January 2015 by Kari Kassir, MD
Last Updated: 5/5/2014
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