Retinopathy of prematurity is a condition of the eye that can lead to blindness or visual impairment.  The tissue that lines the eye is known as the retina.  It has many blood vessels that feed the tissue with nutrients and oxygen. ROP can occur if the blood vessels are not fully-grown and do not reach the edge of the retina.  Scientists believe that the retina sends out a signal that it requires nutrients. This causes abnormal blood vessels to grow.  These blood vessels are weak and can begin to bleed.  The bleeding results in scarring and this in turn shrinks.  The shrinking can pull on the retina and cause it to detach from the back of the eye.  This can result in partial or complete blindness.

What are the risk factors for this condition?

Premature babies are susceptible to this condition. The condition can occur in one or both eyes.  The eye begins to develop at 16 weeks and goes into a phase of rapid development in the last 12 weeks before birth.  In a full term baby, the eye completes its development within a month after birth.  A baby that is born with a birth weight of 1250g or less, and is born before 31 weeks gestation, is at risk of ROP because the eye is not fully developed.  Other risk factors include blood transfusions, breathing difficulties, anemia, exposure to high levels of oxygen, and the overall wellbeing of the baby.

How is retinopathy of prematurity treated?

This condition has 5 stages, from mild to severe.  The majority of premature babies that develop the condition have stage 1 or 2.  This means there is mild to moderate abnormal blood vessel growth.  In many cases it resolves on its own and does not progress.  Monitoring of the condition is all that is required.  If the condition worsens or the infant has stage 3, 4 or 5, further treatment is required to prevent blindness.  Treatment usually involves laser therapy but, in the most severe of cases, other procedures are available.  If you are concerned about the treatment your baby has received and you suspect there has been medical negligence, call Paul du Plessis Attorneys.  This firm has a special interest in negligence claims involving retinopathy of prematurity and can provide you with guidance.

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