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With review and feedback from CEENTA pediatric ophthalmologists Taressa Haney, MD, Elliot McKee, MD, Timothy Saunders, MD, and Erin Schotthoefer, MD

Premature infants need a lot of help in the first few months of life. But did you know that severe eye problems can develop even while the child is still in the hospital? CEENTA’s pediatric eye doctors help prevent blindness in premature infants by detecting and treating a condition called retinopathy of prematurity.

What is retinopathy of prematurity?

Retinopathy of prematurity – or ROP – is an eye disorder that usually affects premature babies born at less than 31 weeks of gestation or weighing less than three pounds. The smaller a baby is at birth, the more likely he or she is to develop this condition. Infants with poor weight gain or respiratory problems in the first month of life are at higher risk as well. Thankfully, not all premature babies develop ROP.

What causes ROP?

As the eye develops during pregnancy, the internal blood vessels are among the last parts to grow. These blood vessels start at the very back of the eye next to the optic nerve and grow along the back layer of the eye, called the retina. This process is helped along by hormones that pass from the mother through the placenta and usually completes near the mother’s due date. However, if the baby is born prematurely the blood vessels can grow abnormally. The abnormal blood vessels can cause bleeding, swelling, and scarring of the retina. Scarring of the retina can make it detach, which is very difficult to repair. In the worst-case scenario, the child can have permanent damage to his or her vision, or even become legally blind.

How many infants get ROP?

About 14,000 to 16,000 babies born in the United States each year develop ROP. Fortunately, about 90 percent of those cases are mild and resolve without treatment. Roughly 1,100 to 1,500 infants each year develop ROP that requires medical treatment.

How is ROP diagnosed?

When a premature infant is at risk for ROP, a pediatric ophthalmologist will perform a screening exam every few weeks. This exam is performed by using dilating eyedrops, a headlight, and a hand-held lens to view the interior parts of the eye. Although most infants do not like having their eyes examined, the exam does not cause pain and takes only a couple minutes to perform.

How is ROP treated?

For babies with severe ROP, doctors may recommend laser surgery of the retina, which can slow or reverse the growth of abnormal blood vessels. Another treatment is an injection of medication into the eye to slow and reverse abnormal blood vessel growth. Your doctor will discuss the risks and benefits of these options if treatment is recommended. The goal of treatment is to reduce the risk of severe vision impairment. Even with appropriate treatment, ROP can sometimes cause permanent vision loss.

Pediatric eye care at CEENTA

Medical advances have allowed premature infants to live happy and healthy lives more than ever before. The pediatric ophthalmologists at CEENTA work to give each infant the best chance to develop good vision. Those doctors are:

Taressa Haney, MD: Blakeney

Elliot McKee, MD: SouthPark, Belmont, Statesville

Timothy Saunders, MD: SouthPark, Matthews

Erin Schotthoefer, MD: Huntersville, University

If you have any concerns about your baby’s vision, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with one of these doctors today.

This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your doctor. Would you like an appointment with a CEENTA pediatric eye doctor? Call 704-295-3000. You can also schedule an appointment online or through myCEENTAchart.


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