Retinopathy of Prematurity: Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is an eye disease that affects babies born prematurely. It affects the tissue (called the retina) in the eye, which can cause blindness later. This eye problem also occurs in babies who weigh less than 3 pounds at birth. In this guide, readers will learn all about retinopathy of prematurity, its various causes, and treatment options.

What is Retinopathy of Prematurity?

Retinopathy of Prematurity, or ROP, in short, is an eye problem that generally can happen with premature babies. Premature babies are those who are born before 31 weeks. A full-time natural pregnancy lasts about 38–42 weeks. At the same time, ROP can also affect infants who weigh less than 3 pounds at the time of birth.

If we consider our eyes as cameras, then the front of the eye contains a camera. The back of the eye holds a tissue called the retina. It is covered with special nerve cells. It identifies the light and sends signals to the brain to let you see things. There is a network of blood vessels just below the retina. These vessels grow quickly during the last few weeks of pregnancy and stop developing before birth. However, their growth is affected when the baby is born prematurely.

When unwanted blood vessels grow abnormally on the retina, it can cause serious vision problems. In some babies, these vessels grow into parts where they shouldn’t. Ultimately, it damages the retina and can cause a significant loss of eyesight. It is called retinopathy of prematurity.


The main cause of the eye problem is the early birth of the baby. Generally, a baby takes birth between weeks 38 and 42 of pregnancy. But when a child is born at least 2 months or more prematurely, he or she is likely to have retinopathy of prematurity. The same condition can arise due to low birth weight.

Normally, blood vessels finish growing a few weeks before birth. However, the early birth of the child can trigger some sort of vision-related problems. It can disrupt the normal development of blood vessels, and the retina starts developing new blood vessels abnormally. This is called retinal neovascularization (NV).

Hence, ROP is likely to happen due to the following conditions:

  • Low weight at birth
  • Early birth (31 weeks or earlier)
  • Infants get extra oxygen after birth

Additionally, white babies are more susceptible to ROP than black babies. If an infant has another health issue, he or she has a greater risk of having ROP.


To diagnose ROP in a child born prematurely, doctors perform check-ups using a special instrument. The notable thing is that ROP might not be identifiable until several weeks after birth. Therefore, parents are advised to attend all follow-up appointments with an ophthalmologist for four to six weeks after birth and thereafter.

During the check-up, the doctor will grade the outcomes on a scale of five stages. Stage 1 indicates the least severe form of the disease, while stage 5 is the most severe. Timely detection and treatment can avoid vision problems and even blindness.


As discussed earlier, an ophthalmologist rates the examination on a scale of 1 to 5. If the ROP is rated against stages 1 or 2, babies usually get better themselves and don’t require any treatment. However, with the increase in the stage number, the severity of the disease also increases. Hence, it is important to diagnose the disease and start treatment as early as possible to prevent vision loss.

Some treatment methods include:

Laser Treatment

Ophthalmologists begin laser treatment on the retinas of babies suffering from advanced ROP. It helps control the disease early and prevent it from getting worse.


Under this treatment, a medicine (called anti-VEGF drugs) is injected into the eye. It works to block the growth of blood vessels.


It includes two types of retinal surgery, depending on the severity (partially or completely detached retinas) of the problem.

  • Scleral buckling
  • Vitrectomy


Retinopathy of prematurity, or ROP, is a medical condition that generally appears in babies born prematurely. It impacts the normal growth of blood vessels on the retina and creates vision problems. Usually, ROP isn’t serious, and babies get better on their own in most cases. However, the problem can get worse if it isn’t detected and treated earlier. Hopefully, you’ll find this guide valuable, with deeper insights into all aspects of the health concern.

Request an appointment at Apollo Cradle, Bengaluru - Jayanagar. Call 1860-500-1066 to book an appointment.

1. Retinopathy of prematurity affects which organ in the baby’s eye?

ROP impacts the retina of the baby’s eyes. It is the condition in which blood vessels are developed abnormally on the retina.

2. Is ROP in children dangerous?

Usually, ROP gets corrected itself without any medical treatment in most cases. But if the condition is severe (state 4 or 5), parents need to be serious about their child before it damages the vision.

3. Is it possible to treat ROP in a newborn baby?

Yes. ROP at stages 4 or 5 is curable with several methods. It includes laser treatment, medication, surgery, etc.

4. What is the main cause of ROP in kids?

Babies with an early birth (31 weeks or earlier) or less than 3 pounds of weight at birth are more likely to develop ROP.

5. What are the various stages of ROP?

There are 5 stages of ROP, with stage 1 being the least dangerous and stage 5 being the most severe.

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