There are many health issues that plague preterm babies about which new parents ought to know. Among them is retinopathy of prematurity (RoP), said to be the leading cause of childhood blindness worldwide. According to Dr Harshavardhan Reddy, vitreo – retina surgeon at ASG Eye Hospitals, Dombivli, the condition affects babies born at or before 34 weeks of gestational age or with a birth weight of 2000 g or less, damaging their retina and potentially causing blindness.
“A condition where the baby is born before complete development of the retina and its blood supply, it leads to the release of vascular endothelial growth factors (VEGF) and formation of abnormal blood vessels. If left untreated, RoP can cause tractional retinal detachment, which is the main cause of severe visual impairment and even blindness in infants,” the doctor warns.
He, however adds that RoP can be treated and blindness can be prevented with proper screening of babies.
“Premature infants should undergo regular eye checkups for RoP. It, however, is not visible till a few weeks after the baby’s birth; checkups should be done around 25-30 days after birth. If RoP doesn’t go away on its own and abnormal blood vessels continue to grow, the newborn’s eyes must be treated,” says Dr Reddy.
He explains that there are three ways to treat RoP: “Laser treatment, where the avascular retina is treated by the ophthalmologist to reduce the oxygen demand of the retina preventing formation of abnormal blood vessels. On the other hand, anti-VEGF injections halt the blood vessel growth and cause regression. Babies with RoP require regular checkups as this condition can lead to further problems like misaligned eyes, heightened risk of glaucoma, and nearsightedness apart from permanent blindness.”
The expert says retinopathy of prematurity may spontaneously regress as the baby grows up. “They are advised to get regular checkups to ensure healing is underway. In some cases, urgent treatment is essential to prevent permanent vision loss. The more premature a baby is, the higher their risk of developing the disease. If the infant has other complications like anemia, breathing issues or less vitamin E, they are more prone to RoP.”
The doctor concludes by saying it is important to spread awareness, not just among parents but also pediatricians treating these babies, since they “have their entire lives ahead of them”.