Eye Exam for Retinopathy of Prematurity
During this exam, an eye doctor (ophthalmologist) examines the interior of the eyes through a special lens. The doctor checks for any damaged blood vessels in the retina. The retina is a light-sensitive layer of tissue on the back of the inside of the eye.
Normal Anatomy of the Eye
Reasons for Procedure
Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is a rare condition that occurs in the eyes of infants who:
- Are born prematurely
- Are born with a low birth weight
With this condition, the blood vessels of the retina grow abnormally. This can lead to bleeding and scarring in the retina. ROP usually heals by itself. Most infants do not require treatment. In a small number of cases, ROP may cause vision loss or blindness. This exam is done to determine if the infant has ROP and, if so, what type of treatment would be the best option.
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, give you your infant a pacifier during the exam. This may help to soothe her.
- The doctor will put eye drops in your infant’s eyes. These will dilate the pupils (the dark area in the center of the eye). The drops will take about 30-60 minutes to work.
The doctor may place drops in your infant’s eyes to numb them and keep her comfortable.
Description of the Procedure
After your infant is born, eye exams are usually scheduled to take place in 4-6 weeks. The eye exam will be done in the doctor’s office.
An assistant may gently place your infant in a blanket and hold her during the exam. The doctor will use an eyelid speculum to keep your infant's eyelids open. A special lens will be used to send a bright light into the eye. The doctor will check your infant’s retina. An eyelid depressor will also be used. This tool will help the doctor to move the eye in different directions.
How Long Will It Take?
Will It Hurt?
The dilating eye drops can cause stinging. The exam can cause discomfort, as well. Ask the doctor if your infant will need medicine to keep her comfortable.
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
After arriving home, contact the doctor if any of the following occurs in your infant:
- Discharge from the eye
- Redness or swelling
- Loss of vision or other eyesight changes
- Signs of infection, including fever and chills
- Nausea or vomiting
- Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
- Any new symptoms
If you think you have an emergency, CALL 911.
American Academy of Pediatrics
National Eye Institute
Canadian Ophthalmology Society
Canadian Pediatric Society
DynaMed Editorial Team. Retinopathy of prematurity. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated April 5, 2010. Accessed April 26, 2010.
Lewis R. Retinopathy of prematurity. EBSCO Nursing Reference Center website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/pointOfCare/default.php?id=3. Published November 11, 2008. Updated date. Accessed April 15, 2010.
National Eye Institute. Retinopathy of prematurity. National Eye Institute website. Available at: http://www.nei.nih.gov/health/rop. Updated February 2010. Accessed April 26, 2010.
Olitsky SE, Hug D, Smith LP. Retinopathy of prematurity. In: Kleigman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF. Nelson’s Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. St. Louis, MO: Saunders; 2007.
Samra HA, McGrath JM. Pain management during retinopathy of prematurity eye examinations: a systematic review. Adv Neonatal Care. 2009;9;3:99-110.
Last reviewed April 2010 by
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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