Eye Matters
May 26, 2006

Retinopathy of prematurity

In previous articles we have talked about retinopathy as a severe complication seen in diabetic and/or hypertensive patients who are generally adults, but today our chat will be about retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). This medical affliction is capable of producing severe alterations of the peripheral zone of the retina with irreversible damage to the vision, sometimes for life.{{more}}

The ROP is one of the most frequent causes of blindness in childhood with increased incidence in premature newborns weighing 1500 grams (3.3lbs) or less, or those that are born before 32 weeks of gestation (the normal pregnancy has a gestation of 38-42 weeks). It is characterized by an abnormal growth of the blood vessels in the posterior part of the eye; as in these premature babies the development of these blood vessels which irrigate and nourish this zone is not completed. This normally occurs around week 40 of pregnancy and finishes a few days later after the baby is born.

One of the factors related to ROP is the excess of oxygen administered to these babies whilst being in the incubator after birth, and these levels are actually very closely monitored to make sure that the baby receives the correct amount of oxygen, and so decreasing the incidence of these cases.

How would you know if your baby suffers from ROP?

If you have had a premature baby, he/she should have an eye exam done by your ophthalmologist at least 4-6 weeks after birth. There should be follow-up visits for about 2 years where the ophthalmologist will inform you if the blood vessels are having normal growth towards the border of the retina or if there is any sort of abnormalities.

How is this disease treated?

This would depend on the stage that the ROP is found in. It is ranged from Stage I where no treatment is required up to Stage IV or V which would require cryotherapy, photocoagulation with laser or surgery in the event of a retinal detachment.

Advice and vital recommendations:

• Avoid pregnancy at an early age (less than 20 years) as neither the womb nor the body is mature enough to bear it

• Have regular check-ups with your gynecologist during pregnancy

• Eliminate toxic habits during pregnancy (alcohol, cigarette smoking)

• Maintain a balanced diet cutting down on carbohydrates, salt and sweets

• If your baby is born prematurely, he/she should be seen periodically by your ophthalmologist.

Dr Pedro A. Ferrer Suarez Consultant Ophthalmologist (MCMH) Member of the National Cataract Surgery Team of Cuba