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Premature Baby And Eye Problems

4 min read

Someone has rightly said, “Eyes are the most beautiful things. They enable you to see the immense beauty around you.”
Babies born before 37 weeks are called premature or preterm babies. Parents of premature babies do know that their infant, because of being born before time, does have some challenges ahead to face. A highly premature baby can be vulnerable to many health hazards and eye problem is one of them. The fact that a fetus develops rapidly in the last 12 weeks has made the experts believe that eye development does get affected if the baby is born early. Vision complications could arise due to retinopathy of prematurity and strabismus, or misalignment of the eyes.

Premature Babies

What Is Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP)?

Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is the eye disease concerned with improper development of eye. Earlier it was referred to as retrolental fibroplasias.
The risk of development of ROP is more in premature babies because their retina is improperly developed and has insufficient supply of blood vessels at the time of birth.
A large number of premature babies receive surplus oxygen immediately birth. This increased percentage of oxygen rather variation in oxygen level can hamper the improperly formed blood vessels of the retina.

Causes Of Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP)

The eyes begin to form when the baby is just 16 weeks old in the uterus. During the last 12 weeks of the pregnancy the eye development usually speeds up. The untimely delivery of the baby interferes with the development of the eyes and ROP is the outcome. Besides retinopathy, other threats are anemia, breathing problems, poor health, etc. The retinopathy of prematurity causes irregular formation of blood vessels. They can bleed and scar formation can also occur. This scar tissue pulls the retina and result in its detachment. Blindness is the obvious outcome.
Around 10 to 30 percent of premature babies born are affected with ROP.

Screening for Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP)

Thorough eye examination is the only way to detect retinopathy of prematurity. Premature babies particularly those born at 30 weeks or less and weighing less than 3 pounds should be undergo ophthalmic examination. Parents should consult the doctor whether or not the eye exam should be done for the baby. If the doctor does feel that the baby needs a ROP test, it should be done between 4 to 9 weeks after the baby’s birth. After the eye exam, the doctor will let you know whether treatment would be required or you will need to come for follow ups.

Preemies and eye problems

Treatment of Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP)

The retinopathy of prematurity can be prevented by early diagnosis and by proper subsequent treatment.

Treatment may include:

Cryotherapy: This process is also termed as photocoagulation or freezing or laser therapy. It prevents the growth of blood vessels and thus checks the pulling of retina-detachment of retina

Scleral buckling: In this technique a band is placed in eye which pushes it back and keeps retina in its actual place. The band can be removed afterwards

Vitrectomy: This is a surgical process where vitreous humor present inside the eye is replaced by a aqueous saline solution. The scar tissue is also surgically removed from the eye

These treatments restore central vision however some side vision can be lost.

Potential Complications Of Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP)

There are a few complications associated with ROP treatment. Some of them are listed as under:

  • Nearsightedness or myopia
  • Farsightedness or hypermetropia
  • Misalignment of the eyes or starbismus
  • Lazy eyes or amblyopia
  • Glaucoma
  • Retinal detachment

Prevention Of Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP)

The premature babies should be closely monitored for their blood oxygen levels. Paediatric ophthalmologist should examine the babies when they are 5 to 6 weeks old.

premature baby

Other Eye Ailments

Besides ROP other eye problems affecting premature babies are strabismus or nearsightedness.

Strabismus in Babies

Infantile estropia is a sub type of strabismus affecting newborns. In this condition the muscles surrounding and controlling the eye do not work in coordination and makes the eye to focus in opposite directions. Strabismus is believed to develop in premature babies as their brain has not developed properly to control the muscles of the eye.
There are other factors concerned with strabismus which are as under:

  • Retinal hemorrhage due to ROP
  • Brain or nervous disorders such as seizures, cerebral palsy, etc
  • Eye or brain tumor
  • Cataract surgery
  • Developmental delay

The brain receives different images because the eyes see in different areas. The brain takes into account the image received from the straight eye and ignores that of the crossed one. But the depth perception is not assessed properly.
Strabismus can result in amblyopia or lazy eye. This usually happens when the vision of the crossed eye is hampered and there can be a loss of vision.

Newborn care is very intricate, frightening and amazing job for the parents. Your tiny tot is brave enough o withstand the preterm birth-surely a blessing! But you know that she is vulnerable to many infections- a challenging job to keep the baby protected!

So, if you have a preterm baby, you might be at the threat of vision issues and even the loss of vision. Do not overlook getting your baby’s eyes checked up by the paediatric ophthalmologist.

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