Blind World

Retinopathy of Prematurity.
Retinopathy of prematurity affects premature infants.

April 1, 2004.
By: Ivanhoe Broadcast News.

Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is a potentially blinding eye disease that primarily affects premature infants weighing about 2.75 pounds or less that are born after spending less than 31 weeks in the womb.

During the last 12 weeks of pregnancy, the eye develops rapidly. If a baby is born prematurely, the growth of blood vessels in the retina can be stunted.

As a result, new abnormal vessels begin to grow and spread throughout the retina. The new blood vessels are fragile and can bleed, leading to retinal scarring. When these scars shrink, they can pull the retina out of position and cause it to detach from the back of the eye. Retinal detachment is the main cause of visual impairment and blindness in ROP.

If ROP is left untreated, there's a possibility patients could go blind. However, blindness only occurs in about 10 percent of premature babies when the blood vessels grow so abnormally that they threaten eyesight. Doctors usually wait until that threshold to perform laser surgery, which freezes the retina to decrease the number of abnormal blood vessels.

Doctors usually wait to perform the surgery because there are risks to laser treatment, one of which includes loss of peripheral vision. However, a new study shows performing the procedure earlier may be beneficial for some children.

New report suggests that infants will retain better vision if therapy is given early in the disease.

The study included 317 infants at high-risk for ROP-related vision loss in both eyes. The infants had one eye treated early and the other eye managed with conventional treatment. Results show premature infants at high-risk for developing vision loss from ROP will retain better vision when therapy is given early in the disease.

The smaller the babies are at birth, the more likely they are to develop ROP, although not all premature babies develop the disease. About 15,000 babies in the United States and thousands more around the world have ROP.

The disease usually develops in both eyes and is one of the most common causes of vision loss in children. The disease can lead to lifelong vision impairment and blindness.

To learn more, contact:

Tom Hughes,
University of North Carolina Health Care.
(919) 966-6047.

Copyright 2004TWEAN News Channel of Austin, L.P. d.b.a. News 8 Austin.

End of article.

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