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Retinopathy of Prematurity

(ROP; Retrolental Fibroplasia; RLF)

Definition

Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is a rare eye condition. It occurs in infants who are premature or have low birthweight. ROP cause a problem in the retina, the tissue that lines the back of the eye. The blood vessels in the retina grow abnormally.

The abnormal blood vessels can lead to bleeding and scarring in the retina. In the most serious cases, ROP can lead to a separation of the retina from the back of the eye. In a small number of cases, ROP may cause vision loss or blindness.

Normal Anatomy of the Eye

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes    TOP

The exact cause of ROP is unknown.

Risk Factors    TOP

Factors that increase the chance of an infant developing ROP include:

  • Premature birth, especially babies born less than 30 weeks gestation
  • Low birth weight, especially babies weighing less than three pounds
  • Low or fluctuating oxygen levels
  • Respiratory distress
  • Anemia

Symptoms    TOP

There are usually no signs of ROP until it reaches a severe stage. Severe ROP may cause:

  • White pupils
  • Abnormal eye movements
  • Crossed eyes (turning toward each other)
  • Amblyopia (lazy eye)

Diagnosis    TOP

A specialist will screen for ROP if your infant has risk factors such as prematurity and low birth weight. The doctor will use a special eye exam to view the blood vessels in the retina.

The doctor will examine your infant’s eyes every 1-2 weeks until the blood vessels in the retina are fully developed.

Treatment    TOP

ROP will usually heal on its own. Your baby's eye will be examined regularly until the blood vessels heal.

More severe ROP may require treatment to reduce the risk of the retina detaching from the back of the eye. Treatment options include:

  • Cryosurgery—freezing tissue in the eye to prevent the spread of abnormal blood vessels
  • Laser ablation/photocoagulation—a laser stops abnormal blood vessels from growing

Prevention    TOP

The best way to prevent ROP is to prevent premature birth. Good prenatal care will help decrease the risk of premature birth.

RESOURCES:

Healthy Children.org—American Academy of Pediatrics
http://www.healthychildren.org
National Eye Institute
http://www.nei.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Ophthalmology Society
http://www.eyesite.ca
Canadian Pediatric Society
http://www.cps.ca

References:

American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Ophthalmology, American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus. Screening examination of premature infants for retinopathy of prematurity. Pediatrics. 2006;117(2):572.
Retinopathy of prematurity. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated June 10, 2013. Accessed June 24, 2013.
Retinopathy of prematurity. National Eye Institute website, Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed June 24, 2013.
Last reviewed March 2014 by Kari Kassir, MD
Last Updated: 05/05/2014