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Retinopathy of Prematurity

Babies that are born prematurely are at risk of developing a condition called retinopathy of prematurity. The condition disrupts the normal growth of blood vessels on the retina, causing abnormal ones to grow. These fragile blood vessels can leak and create scars on the retina that interfere with vision. The condition can range from mild to severe. Mild cases can often correct naturally, without intervention. More severe cases can cause serious vision impairment or even blindness due to scarring or retinal detachment. 

Symptoms of Retinopathy of Prematurity

Because this is a condition that occurs inside the eye, there may be no obvious outward symptoms. If your baby is born prematurely, it is important to have a screening done by an ophthalmologist as soon as possible – even while the child is still in a newborn intensive care unit. 

Risk Factors for Retinopathy of Prematurity

Because a baby’s eyes undergo a great deal of development during the last 12 weeks of pregnancy, premature birth can disrupt this growth pattern, preventing the blood vessel growth from extending toward the edges of the retina and supplying the proper amount of nutrients and oxygen. Therefore, risk factors include: 

  • Premature birth
  • Birth weight of 2.75 pounds or less
  • Anemia
  • Respiratory problems
  • Blood transfusions

Having this condition early in life can put patients at higher risk for developing other eye diseases or conditions later in life such as crossed eyes (strabismus), lazy eye (amblyopia), nearsightedness, glaucoma or even retinal detachment. 

Treatment for Retinopathy of Prematurity

With the proper medical monitoring and treatment if necessary, most premature infants will not have lasting vision problems. The right treatment will depend on the stage of the condition: 

  • Retina laser surgery: the retina is connected back in proper position using tiny burns
  • Cryopexy: intense cold is applied to the retinal tear that produces a scar to reattach the retina
  • Vitrectomy: the vitreous gel in the eye is drained and replaced with a saline solution to reduce retinal pulling due to the changes in vitreous gel 
  • Scleral buckle: a flexible silicone band is placed around the eye to relieve pressure caused by the shrinking and contracting of the vitreous gel

If you have recently given birth to a premature baby, contact a pediatric retina specialist to schedule a comprehensive eye exam for your newborn right away. The doctors at NewView can assist with a referral.

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Reston, VA 20190

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