Retinopathy of Prematurity
(ROP; Retrolental Fibroplasia; RLF)
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
ROP occurs most often in infants who are born prematurely or have low birth weight. The exact cause is unknown.
These factors increase the chance of an infant developing ROP:
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)
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.
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
American Academy of Pediatrics
National Eye Institute
Canadian Ophthalmology Society
Canadian Pediatric Society
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Neff D. Discharge instructions for premature birth. EBSCO Health Library website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/thisTopic.php?marketID=15;topicID=81. Updated December 2009. Accessed April 22, 2010.
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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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