Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP)

What is retinopathy of prematurity?

Today, doctors can help more premature babies than ever before clear their biggest hurdle: a successful birth. But that means they’re also seeing more babies with retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), a condition that affects the blood vessels in preemies’ eyes. In many children, ROP resolves on its own; however, infants with more severe forms of ROP face a serious risk of blindness.

  • Retinopathy of prematurity causes blood vessels to grow abnormally in the retina, the light-sensitive nerve tissue that lines the inside back wall of the eye.
  • Doctors don’t yet fully understand what causes ROP. But the more premature the baby and the lower the birth weight, the greater the risk for developing ROP.
  • How serious the ROP is depends on what part of the eye is affected (the zone); how far the disease has progressed (the stage); and whether the blood vessels themselves are markedly abnormal (plus disease).
  • About 90 percent of babies with ROP have a less serious form of the condition and improve without treatment.
  • Infants with more severe ROP may need laser therapy, cryotherapy (a freezing procedure) or, rarely, eye surgery.

How Children’s Hospital Boston approaches retinopathy of prematurity

At Children’s, experts in neonatal care and eye health team up to care for hundreds of infants with ROP each year. Our pediatric ophthalmologists work regularly with attending physicians in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) to screen babies for ROP and treat them when necessary. This strong partnership is a signature of the Children’s approach to safeguarding your child’s overall health.

In addition to offering the most up-to-date technology in detecting and treating ROP—such as a camera that can be used to take high-resolution digital pictures of infants’ retinas—Children’s is focusing on the future. Our physician-researchers are helping to identify which babies are at greatest risk for developing ROP, for example, and searching for ways to head off vision damage before it can start. They’re also examining the safety and effectiveness of promising new treatments, such as Avastin, that may change the way we treat ROP in the future.

Reviewed by Suzanne Johnston, MD
© Children’s Hospital Boston; posted in 2011