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Baby—retinopathy of prematurity

Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP)

What this means for your baby and you

The retina is the light sensitive lining at the back of the eye which allows us to see. The blood vessels which supply the retina are the last part of the eye to develop just before a baby is born at term. When a baby is born prematurely, their retinas are not fully developed. In some premature babies the blood vessels of the retinas do not continue to develop normally. This is known as retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) and, if undetected, could lead to blindness.

Routine eye examinations are carried out, in the Neonatal Critical Care Unit, on all premature babies weighing less than 1250 grams at birth or born at less than 31 weeks gestation. Your baby’s first eye examination will be as follows:

  • 24 to 26 weeks gestation at birth—first examination at approximately 32 weeks of gestational age
  • 28 to 31 weeks gestation at birth—first examination at approximately one month of age.

The examination takes a few minutes. One hour prior to the examination, drops are placed in both your baby’s eyes to dilate the pupils. A further drop which contains a local anaesthetic is given immediately before the examination.

Your baby’s eyes may be examined with a special camera or by viewing with a special light. You are more than welcome to stay during the examination.

The frequency of the examinations depends entirely on the individual baby. Most babies will require regular check-ups, often weekly or fortnightly, until their eyes have matured. It is also possible that your baby may require an examination after discharge from hospital.

In the majority of premature babies with ROP, the blood vessels that did not grow correctly recover without intervention. If your baby’s eyes are developing the more severe form of ROP, the doctor will talk with you about preventative laser surgery to help protect your baby’s vision.

Premature babies are also susceptible to other eye problems during the first few years of life (although full-term babies may also develop similar problems). Therefore, it is important that your baby is reviewed in the outpatient clinic at nine months and again at three years of age.

© 2012 Mater Misericordiae Ltd. ACN 096 708 922

Mater acknowledges consumer consultation in the development of this patient information.
Mater Doc Num: HOSP-011-01025
Last modified 28/10/2015.
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