Retinopathy of Prematurity is described as one of the most important eye health issues affecting premature babies. Vessels in the eyes of infants continue to develop until the time of birth. In premature babies, such development continues after birth since it is not completed yet. High concentrations of oxygen given to keep premature babies alive may cause the vessels in the eyes to develop abnormally. As a result, Retinopathy of Prematurity (shortly called ROP) develops in the retinas of infants whose vascularization is not complete. Unless treated at an early stage, this leads to blindness in both eyes. Therefore, premature babies should be examined by an ophthalmologist.

Which babies does retinopathy of prematurity affect most?

A normal pregnancy lasts 40 weeks or 280 days. If delivery takes place before week 37 is completed, the baby is considered to be premature. Infants born weighing less than 2,500 grams are termed "low birthweight" babies. Two-thirds of these infants are premature babies.

Retinopathy of prematurity is most common in those whose birthweight is less than 1,000 grams. Therefore, all infants born weighing less than 1,500 grams and earlier than week 32 should be examined for ROP. Early diagnosis and treatment of ROP in newborns is possible through the collaboration of pediatricians and ophthalmologists. Pulmonary and coronary disorders, severe infections and any brain-related problems occurring in infants also increase the risk of retinopathy. With early diagnosis, treatment is possible; delayed treatment results in blindness in both eyes.

When should babies have their eye examination?

An eye examination should be performed 4-6 weeks after birth. ROP has five stages from mild to severe and success is correlated with disease stage. Follow-up is sufficient in the first two stages; from third stage on laser and cryo treatment should be started. The best results are achieved in the third stage. In the fourth and fifth stages, the result of the necessary surgical intervention is not successful. Performing an eye examination in the first month following birth is important for all newborns since timely diagnosis and successful treatment is made possible not only for ROP but also for many eye diseases including high eye pressure, lazy eye, lacrimal duct occlusion and strabismus.