Why Is It Necessary To Get Your Premature Infant Checked For Retinopathy Of Prematurity?

Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) also known as Retrolental Fibroplasia (RLF) and Terry’s Syndrome is an eye disease found in premature infants. It affects the retina, which senses light and sends signals to the brain. ROP is primarily found in premature babies born within 30 weeks of pregnancy or in infants weighing less than 1500 grams at the time of birth.

A study by the National Eye Institute, US, states, “ROP happens when abnormal blood vessels grow in the retina (the light-sensitive layer of tissue in the back of your eye).”

According to Dr Basu, about 65 percent of babies with a weight less than 1251 grams at birth are susceptible to ROP, which causes the growth of unwanted blood vessels in the retina, leading to severe vision-related issues if unchecked and ignored for a long duration.

“The anomalies in the development of blood vessels escalate with age, potentially leading to vision-threatening abnormalities if not addressed,” he said.

Symptoms Of ROP

Dr Basu listed some common symptoms in babies with ROP.

  • Unusual eye movements
  • Eyes find following objects
  • White pupils
  • Difficulty in recognising faces

Talking about the severity of symptoms, Dr Basu said, “As they age, they are more likely to have other eye problems, including retinal detachment, nearsightedness, amblyopia, and crossed eyes.

Regular checkups and eye exams are crucial for early detection and treatment of ROP, as early detection helps protect vision as they age.” “To overcome this disease, regular eye checkup is essential. Early detection and treatment of ROP help protect vision as the child grows,” Dr Basu advised.

Stages Of ROP

Ranging from mild to severe, there are five stages of ROP.

  • Stage 1 and 2: Babies in these stages can usually get better leading to healthy vision without any treatment.
  • Stage 3: If the retina is damaged by abnormal blood vessels, it can cause vision loss.
  • Stage 4: In this stage, babies have partially detached retinas which require treatment.
  • Stage 5: This stage can cause vision loss or blindness.

Dr Basu said, “Both stage 4 and 5, are severe and often require surgery,” adding, “It is essential to schedule follow-up exams for babies at any stage to ensure they receive proper care. Early detection and treatment can help reduce the chances of serious complications.”

Causes Of ROP

This eye condition occurs when abnormal blood vessels in the retina develop during pregnancy, disrupting the growth of retinal blood vessels. Babies weighing less than 1500 grams and the babies born within 31 weeks of gestation are the ones at risk. According to Dr Basu, ROP has no symptoms and can only be diagnosed through an eye exam conducted by an ophthalmologist.

Explaining major causes of Retinopathy of Prematurity, Dr Basu said, “The leading cause of ROP is prematurity, and the more prematurely the birth occurs, the greater the risk of ROP.

Factors such as uncontrolled oxygen at birth and the baby’s general condition can also influence the development of ROP.”

He further advised that screening babies under 32 weeks of gestation or babies weighing less than 1501 grams at the time of birth is necessary.

Timely Detection And Way Forward

Retinopathy screening is an eye examination done by an ophthalmologist to look for any signs. Dr Basu recommended that at least one eye screening should be done if a baby is born eight weeks before the ideal time of delivery or if the baby weighs less than 1501 grams at the time of birth.

Dr Basu said, “Premature babies should be checked for retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) within 4 – 6 weeks after birth and again after that.

Ophthalmologists can examine the infant’s eyes during the hospital stay, but ROP may not be visible until several weeks after birth. Regular follow-up appointments are crucial for timely detection and treatment.”

Concluding, Dr Basu said, “In the case of the mild ROP, parents need to consult with the ophthalmologist 1 to 2 months after the first complete eye test by an expert eye care specialist.

Usually, ROP settles independently if the follow-up results do not show further complications. However, if the severity increases, weekly re-examination is advisable.”

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