The retina is a light-sensitive layer of tissue. This tissue lines the back of the eye. The retina converts visual images into nerve impulses in the brain that allow sight. 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. In the most serious cases, this can lead to the retina separating from the back of the eye. ROP usually heals by itself. Most infants do not require treatment. In a small number of cases, ROP may cause vision loss or blindness.

Normal Anatomy of the Eye

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ROP occurs most often in infants who are born prematurely or have low birth weight. The exact cause is unknown.

Risk Factors

These factors increase the chance of an infant developing ROP:

  • Premature birth, especially babies born less than 30 weeks gestation
  • Low birth weight, especially babies weighing less than three pounds
  • Hyperoxia (oxygen toxicity)
  • Respiratory distress
  • Anemia


ROP usually occurs suddenly. It progresses in stages from mild to severe. There are usually no outward signs of ROP. If your infant has any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to ROP. These symptoms may be caused by other conditions. Tell your doctor if your infant has any of these:

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


Guidelines vary, but a pediatric ophthalmologist (doctor who specializes in eye conditions and treatment in children) will screen for ROP if your infant:

  • Is born prematurely
  • Has a low birth weight

The doctor may examine your infant’s eyes every 1-2 weeks until the blood vessels in the retina are fully developed. Eye drops are used to dilate the pupils. The doctor uses a special lens to examine the eye.


© 2009 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


Talk with the doctor about the best treatment plan for your infant. Treatment options to reduce the risk of your infant’s retina detaching from the back of the eye include the following:

  • Cryosurgery—a freezing probe is used to prevent the spread of abnormal blood vessels in the retina
  • Laser ablation/photocoagulation—a laser is used to stop abnormal blood vessels in the retina from growing


The best way to prevent ROP is to prevent premature birth. Screening is very important for:

  • Premature infants
  • Low birth weight infants

If your infant needs oxygen therapy, the doctor will monitor the oxygen levels to make sure she is getting the right amount.