Retinopathy of Prematurity affects children that are born too early or before 31 weeks of gestation. It is an eye disease that causes visual impairment or blindness in severe cases. Babies who complete the time of gestation – 38-42 weeks, don’t develop Retinopathy of Prematurity.
Babies, which weigh less than 1500 grams or 3.3 pounds are more likely to develop this eye problem. The lighter weight baby is more likely to develop ROP. ROP is among the most common eye diseases in babies that causes visual impairment and blindness.
15 million cases of ROP occur annually every year in infants which don’t complete their gestation and are born early. The world has progressed forward and with this advancement, neonatal care has become better. However, with innovative and modern technologies, the risk of ROP is still high in premature infants.
9 out of 10 cases of ROP are cured and don’t require any emergency treatment. If Retinopathy of Prematurity is on an early stage, it heals on its own without any treatment. When the stage has reached a severe level, the child can develop visual impairment or in some cases blindness.
Stages of ROP
There are five stages in ROP. The first three stages are considered non-serious and there are high chances that the disease can be cured. However — the last two stages are considered more serious and if not treated immediately, it can leave the patient visually impaired or blind.
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Here are the five stages of ROP
Stage I, which is considered non-serious, has a mild abnormality in the growth of blood vessels. Many infants who are in the first stage of ROP improve without any treatment and their eyes develop normal vision eventually.
In Stage II, the abnormality level of the blood vessels is moderate. While this stage is slightly more intense than the first, it is not considered serious and the vision of the child can get back to normal without any treatment.
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The third is considered severe. The abnormality of the blood vessels increases and they grow in size. Normally, blood vessels grow along the surface of the retina. However, in ROP the direction changes towards the centre of the eye. There were some cases in which the babies recovered from Stage III ROP without any treatment and developed normal vision.
Unlike the first three stages, Stage IV is extremely serious as the retina is partially detached in this phase. Because of the traction, bleeding starts to occur from the scar that pulls the walls of the eye.
Stage V is the last and most deadly stage. At this stage, the retina is totally detached and the infant develops severe visual impairment issues that can lead to blindness.
Other complications associated with ROP
If a premature infant is diagnosed with retinopathy of prematurity — there is a chance that the baby will also get other eye diseases. Most common ones include glaucoma, strabismus (crossed eyes), retinal detachment, amblyopia and myopia (near-sightedness).
Causes of ROP
In premature infants, the blood vessels are not completely formed. Retinopathy of prematurity occurs when blood vessels start growing abnormally throughout the retina (a tissue at the back of the eye). Since the blood vessels are weak and the risk of leaking is high, they scar the retina and disturb its position. In some severe cases, the retina detaches and the risk of blindness increases in the infants.
Occurring of ROP is due to many different factors. Most common ones are:
- Babies who are born before the gestational age of 30 weeks or less
- Babies which weigh less than 1500 grams (3.3 pounds)
During pregnancy, the eyes start growing in the sixteenth week and blood vessels are formed at the back of the eye. The blood vessels feed the retina. It takes 38 to 42 weeks to finish the growth of the eyes. So, in premature infants, the risk of ROP is high due to incomplete formation of blood vessels.