What is Retinopathy of Prematurity?

Posted on Jun 20, 2022

Retinopathy of prematurity is an eye condition that is associated with a pre-term birth and is a lifelong condition. This condition has several additional risks associated with it that can cause other issues.


Definition of a Pre-Term Birth

When considering retinopathy of prematurity, an important definition is what is classified as a pre-term birth.

In normal gestation, a baby will be born at 40 weeks of gestation. However, any birth that is after 37 weeks is still considered to be a full-term birth.

For any birth that is before week 37 of gestation, the birth can be classified as a pre-term birth or premature birth.

When assessing retinopathy of prematurity, any pre-term birth has the potential to develop the condition but not every premature birth will develop retinopathy of prematurity.


Signs of Retinopathy of Prematurity

In a pre-term baby, the signs of retinopathy of prematurity can be seen through an eye examination by an eye doctor.

Even at only a few days old, the doctor can view the retina and determine if there are any signs of retinopathy of prematurity.

The signs of retinopathy of prematurity include a lack of developed blood vessels, leaky blood vessels, and potentially a detached retina.

As the child is only a few days old and will not have any symptoms that are detectable, so an evaluation by an eye doctor is the only method of determining whether retinopathy of prematurity is present.


Concerns with Retinopathy of Prematurity

With retinopathy of prematurity, the two main concerns are that the peripheral retina will not be developed correctly and that the underdeveloped retina can cause a detachment.

By having the underdeveloped peripheral retina, the child or adult will not have normal peripheral visual fields.

This visual field constriction can be varied in the extend of the retinopathy of prematurity. In a mild case of retinopathy of prematurity, the constricted visual fields may not cause any specific signs or symptoms in the activities of daily living.

However, if the retinopathy of prematurity is more severe the visual field may be constricted to a degree that causes symptoms daily and may even classify the individual as legally blind based on the constricted visual field.

The other risk with retinopathy of prematurity is the detachment of the sensory retina. A retinal detachment occurs when the nerve tissue that the retina is composed of becomes loosened from the underlying epithelium.

A retinal detachment is an emergent condition that must be corrected as soon as possible in order to reduce the lifelong vision impacts.

A retinal detachment may have an outcome of near complete resolution or may not have any vision regained if the treatment is not performed in time.


Treatments for Retinopathy of Prematurity

To treat retinopathy of prematurity, there are many preventative surgical interventions.

For an infant with a moderate or severe case of retinopathy of prematurity may require a laser retinal surgery or a cryo laser surgery.

The eye doctor who examines the child can make the best recommendation for treatment based on the clinical findings.


Our eye doctors at Eye Theory in Houston, TX excel in the prescription of contact lenses, glasses and various eye diseases.  Call our optometrist at 832.831.7386 or schedule an appointment online if you would like to learn more about retinopathy of prematurity.  Our eye doctor, Dr. Jonathan Tsao, provides the highest quality optometry services and eye exams in the Midtown, Downtown, Museum District, Montrose, East Downtown, and Southside Commons (Southside Place) vicinities of Houston, Texas.

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