About Retinopathy
of Prematurity (ROP)

Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) describes problems with the development of the blood vessels in the Retina in preterm infants.  ROP describes a spectrum of problems from minimal changes to the periphery of the retina to uncontrolled growth of blood vessels centrally. ROP occurs almost exclusively in preterm infants. Retinal blood vessels begin developing at 16 weeks of gestation and are not fully developed until 40 weeks of gestation.  In infants born prematurely the blood vessels can grow irregularly.  These changes can be transient with small changes to the periphery of the Retina only.  However, they can also involve uncontrolled growth of blood vessels, which in the most severe cases can cause a detachment of the whole Retina.

The risk factors associated with ROP are not fully known, but prematurity and low birth weight are major factors.  Problems such as respiratory distress, bradycardia (low heart rate), heart disease, infection, hypoxia (low oxygen levels), anemia, and the need for blood transfusion are other risk factors. In general we find that the lower the birth weight and the more medical problems with the infant, the greater the risk for ROP.

Treatment and Prognosis of ROP

In some cases ROP will need to be treated.  This is done using laser or cryotherapy-a form of “freezing” therapy.  In severe cases, surgery to correct a retinal detachment can be required. In more than 90% of infants with ROP there is spontaneous regression of the disease process, with little or no residual effects or visual disability. In less than 10% of infants there is progression toward severe disease.  Despite treatment some of these cases can lead to detachment of the retina, and impairment of vision. Over the course of their lifetime children with ROP are at increased risk for strabismus, amblyopia, nystagmus and refractive errors.