March 26th, 2015
Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP)
Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP, also known as retrolental fibroplasia, or RLF), is an eye disease that can affect babies who are born premature. If not timely treated, these babies may suffer complete blindness.
Anatomy & Risk Factors
The blood vessels in a baby’s eyes begin developing in utero at 3 months, and that development continues through birth. The development is disrupted when a baby is born early—the blood vessels can stop growing, or in severe cases, can develop abnormally.
Other risk factors include:
- Apnea (irregular breathing)
- Heart disease
- Respiratory disease
- Low heart rate (bradycardia)
- Blood transfusions
- Low blood oxygen or acidity
- High amounts of carbon dioxide in the blood
Doctors should screen all babies born sooner than 30 weeks, or who weigh less than 3 pounds at birth, and should consider screening when these other risk factors are present. Babies with this condition may show signs of crossed eyes, nearsightedness, abnormal eye movements, or whiteish pupils. The only way to test for retinopathy of prematurity is with an eye exam, which may be performed as early as four weeks after birth. The scheduling of these eye exams is based on many factors, including the degree of prematurity. If the exams are not performed at the specified times, then irreversible injuries can occur.
Injuries Caused by Retinopathy of Prematurity
The degree of injury to a baby typically depends on how prematurely the baby was born. These injuries fall across a spectrum, ranging from nearsightedness to total vision loss. Babies who face this condition early in life are at a greater risk to eventually develop other eye conditions, including strabismus, glaucoma, cataracts and myopia.
When retinopathy of prematurity is detected early, treatment can offer a chance for normal vision. Treatments include:
- Oxygen treatment
- Freezing to prevent abnormal blood vessels from spreading (cryotherapy)
- Laser therapy to prevent abnormal blood vessels from spreading (photocoagulation)
- Surgery to repair detached retinas
Babies who are born prematurely should be treated with oxygen, which can stimulate the growth of blood vessels in the eyes.
There are three stages where doctors can be negligent, which can cause or exacerbate retinopathy of prematurity injuries:
- Preterm Labor: Because the most significant risk factor for ROP is prematurity, doctors must use best efforts to prevent babies from being born premature. That means that obstetricians must be aware of the risk factors for prematurity, and must closely monitor the mother for signs of preterm labor. When preterm labor is identified, medicine can be used to stop contractions, and other options are available.
- Failure to Identify Retinopathy of Prematurity: When a baby has any of the risk factors for ROP, including prematurity, the obstetrician must instruct parents about the signs and symptoms of ROP, and the baby should be scheduled for eye screening tests. Those tests must be performed at very specific intervals in order to determine whether the blood vessels in the eye are fully developed, developing normally, or developing abnormally. Importantly, parents must follow the doctors’ instructions exactly, particularly about the timing of testing. If the baby’s ROP is not timely identified, the baby is at risk for severe injuries, including permanent vision loss.
- Failure to Treat Retinopathy of Prematurity: When Retinopathy of Prematurity is diagnosed, the baby’s eye doctor (ophthalmologist) should treat the baby quickly, using modes of therapy including cryotherapy, laser therapy and surgery, when necessary.
You and your baby may have a retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) lawsuit if your baby has vision problems. We can examine your medical records to determine if your obstetrician did everything he could to stop preterm labor, and to make sure your doctors timely tested and treated your baby for eye problems. These eye injury lawsuits can involve hospitals, obstetricians, neonatologists, pediatricians, and pediatric ophthalmologists. A successful lawsuit can provide your child with the money to pay for important therapies and surgeries, as well as assistance that may be needed later in life. Contact our birth injury lawyers at (855) 712-7818 or online.
For More Information
- American Academy of Pediatrics, Pediatrics, 2006: “Screening Examination of Premature Infants for Retinopathy of Prematurity” (The AAP’s screening guidelines)
- The Association for Retinopathy of Prematurity and Related Diseases (ROPARD): A support group and resource for parents of children with ROP
- Birth Injury A to Z: Medical and Legal Glossary
- Life Care Plans