Retinopathy in babies is actually a medical condition called retinopathy of prematurity. The condition, as the very name suggests, affects premature babies and their retina. In this condition there is abnormal development of blood vessels inside the retina.
Causes of Retinopathy of Prematurity
It is known that blood vessels of the retina start to grow and develop 3 months after implantation of an egg in the uterus. They are fully developed in full-term babies. However, in premature infants such development can be jeopardized and blood vessels of the retina may start to grow in an abnormal way. These blood vessels are prone to rupture and many times fill the organ with blood. This leads to scarring which is associated with irreversible damage to the organ and potential vision loss.
Premature babies used to be treated with high concentration of oxygen and this was related to the occurrence of retinopathy of prematurity. Today, however, doctors pay close attention in order to prevent this condition and control the level of administered oxygen.
Whether the baby is going to develop the condition mainly depends on the degree of prematurity. Babies who are small and born way too much before they are supposed to are at higher risk.
Clinical Characteristics of Retinopathy of Prematurity
Retinopathy of prematurity goes through 5 stages. The first one includes mild growth of abnormal blood vessels in the retina. In the second stage the growth is moderately abnormal. The following stage is characterized by severe abnormality in growth of retinal blood vessels while the fourth stage, apart from the same course as it is in the third stage, also features with partial retinal detachment. In the final stage there is complete retinal detachment.
There is no way to visualize retinal blood vessels with the naked eye. Only a well experienced ophthalmologist by using specific instruments can investigate the baby's retina and determine the amount of damage and the stage of the disease.
In severe forms of retinopathy of prematurity the baby may have abnormal eye movements, crossed eyes, suffer from severe nearsightedness and develop an additional condition called leukocoria (white-looking pupils).
Treatment for Retinopathy of Prematurity
It is essential to recognize the condition as soon as possible and start treatment immediately. The onset of treatment should be within 72 hours after the diagnosis is set. Treatment for retinopathy of prematurity includes freezing of the abnormal blood vessels (cryotherapy) which efficiently prevents their further growth and development and all associated complications.
Laser therapy is essential for prevention of advanced stages of the disease and treatment of complications. This treatment is effective only if performed before scarring and detachment occur. And finally, if the baby has developed retinal detachment, he/she is treated surgically. Nearsightedness and blindness are two of potential complications which develop if the condition is not treated at all or if it is not treated on time.