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.

Normal Anatomy of the Eye

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Reasons for Procedure

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 can sometimes 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

Your infant may need eye drops during the exam. Your doctor will discuss the complications that may be caused by eye drops, such as:

  • Stinging or discomfort in the eye
  • Light sensitivity
  • Blurred vision
  • Lid swelling
  • Red eyes

Be sure to discuss these risks with the doctor before the eye exam.

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

  • Do not feed your infant right before the exam.
  • If recommended by the doctor, a pacifier during the exam may help soothe your infant.
  • The doctor will put eye drops in your infant’s eyes. These will make the pupils open wide. The drops will take about 30-60 minutes to work.


Drops may be placed in the eyes to numb them and keep your infant comfortable.

Description of the Procedure

An assistant may gently place your infant in a blanket and hold him or her 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?

30-60 minutes

Will It Hurt?

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

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.

At Home

Depending on the strength of the eye drops, your infant’s eyes may be dilated for 4-24 hours.

Call Your Doctor

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:

  • Discharge from the eye
  • Redness or swelling
  • Does not respond to objects, movement, or light or is not tracking with their eyes
  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Any new symptoms

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 (ROP). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated March 15, 2018. Accessed March 19, 2018.

Retinopathy of prematurity. National Eye Institute website. Available at: Accessed March 19, 2018.

Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Kari Kassir, MD  Last Updated: 5/5/2014