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Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP)


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Oct 2019| Content last modified Oct 2019
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What is retinopathy of prematurity (ROP)?

The retina is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eyeball. The word "-pathy" means a problem. So retinopathy is a problem with the retina.

Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is an eye problem in premature babies (babies who are born too early). It's caused by blood vessels in the back of the eye growing in an unusual way.

  • ROP is most common in babies born before 30 weeks of pregnancy, especially premature babies who have infections, bleeding in the brain, or lung problems

  • Premature babies should be checked by an eye doctor every few weeks

  • ROP is usually mild, but it can sometimes cause a detached retina, leading to decreased vision or blindness

  • Your baby may not need any treatment, or doctors may use laser treatments or surgery

What causes ROP?

Normally, blood vessels in the retina of a fetus start growing when the fetus is around 18 to 20 weeks. Those blood vessels stop growing by the time the baby is born. In premature babies, the blood vessels haven't finished growing when the baby is born. They may stop growing for a while, but then start growing again in a disorganized way. This causes ROP.

What are the symptoms of ROP?

Babies with ROP don't usually have symptoms, so all premature babies should have an eye exam to look for ROP.

Babies with severe ROP may have:

How can doctors tell if my baby has ROP?

If your baby is born before 30 weeks or weighs less than 3 pounds at birth, doctors will do an eye exam to see if your baby has ROP. Doctors will do eye exams every 1 to 2 weeks until the blood vessels in your baby's eyes are fully grown.

How do doctors treat ROP?

Sometimes, ROP doesn't need treatment. If treatment is needed, doctors may:

  • Use laser treatment to stop the growth of unusual blood vessels

  • Inject medicine

If your baby's retina detaches, doctors do surgery to reattach it.

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