What is Retinopathy of Prematurity?
Retinopathy of Prematurity, otherwise known as ROP, is a preventable disordered
that can cause blindness in premature babies. ROP usually affects infants
born prior to 30 weeks of gestation because their blood vessels, which
develop late in gestation, have not yet formed. When not properly monitored,
inadequate blood supply to the retina or abnormal vessel development can
cause retinal detachment with resulting blindness.
What Causes Retinopathy of Prematurity?
Retinal blood vessels start to develop three months after conception and
complete their development at the time of normal gestation. ROP occurs
when eye development is disrupted, commonly because an infant is born
prematurely and is outside of the protective environment of the womb.
These vessels may grow abnormally, or even stop growing. The vessels are
fragile, weak, and may leak, resulting in bleeding in the eye.
Later, scar tissue could develop and pull the retina from the inner surface
of the eye. This disconnection can result in vision impairment and loss.
Formerly, premature babies were treated oxygen, but the doses were not
accurately monitored. This excess oxygen stimulated abnormal vessel growth.
Today, this is a rare occurrence as oxygen can be accurately monitored.
Who is at risk?
Babies who are born younger than 30 weeks gestation or who weigh less than
three pounds at birth. Other risks may cause babies who are born after
30 weeks of gestation or weighing more than three pounds to be at risk
for ROP. These babies must be timely screened.
What are other risk factors?
- Heart disease
- High carbon dioxide (CO2) in the blood
- Low blood acidity (pH)
- Low blood oxygen
- Respiratory distress
- Slow heart rate (bradycardia)
Stages of ROP:
- Stage I: There is mildly abnormal blood vessel growth.
- Stage II: Blood vessel growth is moderately abnormal.
- Stage III: Blood vessel growth is severely abnormal.
- Stage IV: Blood vessel growth is severely abnormal and there is a partially
- Stage V: There is a total retinal detachment.
How is Retinopathy of Prematurity Treated?
Early treatment is the key to improve your baby’s chances for normal
vision. In most cases, treatment should start within 72 hours of the eye exam.
The goal of treatment is to stop the growth of abnormal blood vessels and
preserve the central retina (which is the most important part of the retina).
To do so, doctors focus treatment on the peripheral retina (the sides
of the retina). However, some peripheral (side) vision may be lost.
Cryotherapy involves temporarily freezing part of the retina while it is
still immature. It is believed that doing this at a relatively early stage
of the disease may possibly halt the abnormal blood vessel growth.
Photocoagulation therapy is a method of treating detachments (tears) of
the retina with an argon laser. The high-intensity beam of light from
the laser is converted into heat, which forces protein molecules in the
affected tissue to condense and seal the tear. The purpose of photocoagulation
therapy is to reattach a torn or detached portion of the retina and/or
prevent further growth of abnormal blood vessels in the retina that can
cause a detachment.
A surgery involving the removal of the clear gel in the center of your
baby’s eye and replacing it with a saline solution. This procedure
removes the scar tissue, which eases the pull on the retina.
This procedure involves placing a flexible silicone band around the circumference
of the eye. The band is placed around the white of the eye (sclera), causing
it to buckle (push in). This causes the torn retina to push closer to
and remain against the outer wall of the eye.
If your child developed retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), then please allow
our lawyers to investigate whether your baby’s blindness was caused
by a medical mistake.
Our lawyers have recovered millions of dollars for victims of ROP.